Conditions like pneumonia and meningitis are known to be secondary infections after a person has contracted influenza, but new studies of animals suggest that the bacteria that cause the spread of pneumonia and meningitis are only found in those who already have the flu. The study involved infant mice who could only contract pneumonia and bacterial meningitis if they already had the flu virus. Otherwise, when the flu was fought off by the immune system, the spread of meningitis and pneumonia bacteria in the body of the mice was impossible. The results so far have only been seen in mice, but researchers are confident that their observations are accurate representations of what occurs in humans as well.
Prior to this study, it was already recognized that streptococcus pneumonia lives in up to 80% of children’s nasal passages without resulting in an infection or any harm to the child at all. Scientists have already acknowledged that someone with this colonization of bacteria has a greater chance of contracting pneumonia if they also contract the flu. This occurs when the bacteria spreads to other parts of the body like the lungs, which is the case with the spread of pneumonia.
However, what the results of this study conclude is that a flu infection doesn’t just lead to a higher risk of meningitis or pneumonia, it is actually needed to allow the spread of these conditions. The results clearly emphasize the magnitude of receiving yearly flu shots to prevent both the spread of pneumonia and the spread of meningitis as a result of contracting influenza.
While the results seem fairly conclusive, it is still unknown as to why influenza allows the spread of pneumonia and meningitis. One possible reason is because the flu causes sneezing and coughing, which leads to the elimination of the pneumococcal bacteria from the body. Also, having the flu weakens the immune system and can be the perfect time for bacterial infections to strike. It seems that both of these factors play a role in how bacterial infections are spread, according to Dimitri Diavatopoulos, a study researcher and employee at the Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre in the Netherlands.
The next phase of the study will involve the study of the flu virus and how it affects various parts of the immune system. The hope is to reach a conclusion about why this increases human susceptibility to infections like pneumonia and meningitis. Researchers also hope to find conclusive evidence of the findings they uncovered in mice among the human populous as well. With this evidence revealed, the population will gain a thorough understanding of what is needed to allow the spread of pneumonia and meningitis and therefore how to prevent such spread.