Your risk of dying during a flu pandemic is higher if you were born during a previous pandemic, suggests a recent study.

Your risk of dying during a flu pandemic is higher if you were born during a previous pandemic, suggests a recent study.
Photo Credit:

Increased flu risk for those born during a pandemic: study


A new study suggests that people who were born at the time of an influenza pandemic have a higher risk of dying in a future pandemic. The elevated risk could be as much as 30 to 40 per cent. This runs counter to the conventional belief that getting the flu boosts the immune system, making it less likely that one will catch a similar flu virus in future.

‘We found…the opposite’

“Conventional knowledge was…‘if it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger.’ And what we found is really the opposite of that,” says Matthew Miller, an assistant professor and senior researcher at McMaster University. “That initial pandemic, in fact, makes you weaker…

“And so now that we know that, we would know to single out people who are born in and around years of pandemic and identify them potentially as people who should be getting…early doses of vaccine or people who should be taking more precautionary measures…”

Matthew Miller and researchers from two universities studied 17 years of records on flu and mortality in the U.S. and Mexico to reach their conclusions.
Matthew Miller and researchers from two universities studied 17 years of records on flu and mortality in the U.S. and Mexico to reach their conclusions. © McMaster University

Why is not clear, but there are two theories

It’s not clear why these people have a higher risk of dying in future pandemics, but there are two theories. One is that if they caught influenza in a pandemic around the time of birth, it may have caused damage to the lungs which may not be obvious but which may make them more vulnerable during future pandemics.

The other theory is that their early exposure to the pandemic flu may cause their immune system to over react and a response that is too strong can cause more harm than good. Further research will be done to try figure the true cause.

The worse the flu, the higher the risk

What the numbers did repeatedly show was that the worse the strain of flu was in a given pandemic and the sicker the baby got, the higher the chances it would die in a subsequent pandemic. The chances were highest in people born at the height of the pandemic and decreased among those born in the years before and after.

Babies born in pandemic may want to take special precautions when they grow up and face future pandemics.
Babies born in pandemic may want to take special precautions when they grow up and face future pandemics.

Advice for pandemic babies

It will take some time for further research to be done and for policy makers to act on results. But Miller says in the meantime, people who were born in the years around pandemics may want to take precautions in future pandemics. He says they could reduce their chance of getting the flu by avoiding crowds or wearing a mask. They could also wash their hands more and try to get vaccines as soon as possible.

Look out for flu we’ve never seen before

A pandemic is caused when a new strain of influenza virus develops, usually when genes from a virus infecting animals mix with those of a virus infecting humans. The result is a new virus which the human immune system may not recognize leaving people very vulnerable to it. It can spread rapidly around the world.

Pandemics usually happen about every 25 year. The most recent ones were:

Spanish flu in 1918

Asian flu in 1957

Hong Kong flu in 1968

Russian flu in 1977

Swine flu in 2009

The team of researchers from McMaster University and the Université de Montreal analysed monthly mortality and influenza circulation data from the United States and Mexico between October 1997 and July 2014 for this study. They believe the results apply to Canada as well. They published their study called Pandemic Paradox in the journal mBio, published by the American Society for Microbiology.

Tagged with: , , ,
Posted in Health, International

Do you want to report an error or a typo? Click here!

@*@ Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

 characters available

Note: By submitting your comments, you acknowledge that Radio Canada International has the right to reproduce, broadcast and publicize those comments or any part thereof in any manner whatsoever. Radio Canada International does not endorse any of the views posted. Your comments will be pre-moderated and published if they meet netiquette guidelines.

Netiquette »

When you express your personal opinion in an online forum, you must be as courteous as if you were speaking with someone face-to-face. Insults and personal attacks will not be tolerated. To disagree with an opinion, an idea or an event is one thing, but to show disrespect for other people is quite another. Great minds don’t always think alike—and that’s precisely what makes online dialogue so interesting and valuable.

Netiquette is the set of rules of conduct governing how you should behave when communicating via the Internet. Before you post a message to a blog or forum, it’s important to read and understand these rules. Otherwise, you may be banned from posting.

  1.’s online forums are not anonymous. Users must register, and give their full name and place of residence, which are displayed alongside each of their comments. reserves the right not to publish comments if there is any doubt as to the identity of their author.
  2. Assuming the identity of another person with intent to mislead or cause harm is a serious infraction that may result in the offender being banned.
  3.’s online forums are open to everyone, without regard to age, ethnic origin, religion, gender or sexual orientation.
  4. Comments that are defamatory, hateful, racist, xenophobic, sexist, or that disparage an ethnic origin, religious affiliation or age group will not be published.
  5. In online speak, writing in ALL CAPS is considered yelling, and may be interpreted as aggressive behaviour, which is unpleasant for the people reading. Any message containing one or more words in all caps (except for initialisms and acronyms) will be rejected, as will any message containing one or more words in bold, italic or underlined characters.
  6. Use of vulgar, obscene or objectionable language is prohibited. Forums are public places and your comments could offend some users. People who use inappropriate language will be banned.
  7. Mutual respect is essential among users. Insulting, threatening or harassing another user is prohibited. You can express your disagreement with an idea without attacking anyone.
  8. Exchanging arguments and opposing views is a key component of healthy debate, but it should not turn into a dialogue or private discussion between two users who address each other without regard for the other participants. Messages of this type will not be posted.
  9. Radio Canada International publishes contents in five languages. The language used in the forums has to be the same as the contents we publish. The usage of other languages, with the exception of some words, is forbidden. Messages that are off-topic will not be published.
  10. Making repetitive posts disrupts the flow of discussions and will not be tolerated.
  11. Adding images or any other type of file to comments is forbidden. Including hyperlinks to other websites is allowed, as long as they comply with netiquette. Radio Canada International  is in no way responsible for the content of such sites, however.
  12. Copying and pasting text written by someone else, even if you credit the author, is unacceptable if that text makes up the majority of your comment.
  13. Posting any type of advertising or call to action, in any form, to Radio Canada International  forums is prohibited.
  14. All comments and other types of content are moderated before publication. Radio Canada International  reserves the right to refuse any comment for publication.
  15. Radio Canada International  reserves the right to close a forum at any time, without notice.
  16. Radio Canada International  reserves the right to amend this code of conduct (netiquette) at any time, without notice.
  17. By participating in its online forums, you allow Radio Canada International to publish your comments on the web for an indefinite time. This also implies that these messages will be indexed by Internet search engines.
  18. Radio Canada International has no obligation to remove your messages from the web if one day you request it. We invite you to carefully consider your comments and the consequences of their posting.