Influenza virus attacks heart, causes electrical malfunctions and leaves scars, reveals US study

Researchers at Ohio State University, in the United States, were able to show that the flu virus is capable of causing damage directly to the heart, which contradicts the thesis that the cardiological complications were caused by the intense inflammation of the patients’ lungs.

In an article published on Wednesday (11) in the journal Science Advances, scientists show how the influenza virus caused electrical malfunctions and scars in the hearts of mice through a direct infection.

Previously, researchers had already found particles of the flu virus in the heart cells of infected mice, but they were unable to determine whether it was the presence of the flu virus that was causing the problems.

To resolve the issue, they genetically modified influenza so that it did not replicate in the heart. It was then that they saw that the infected mice developed classic flu symptoms, only without heart complications.

“Now we need to find out what direct infection does: is it killing heart cells? Does it have long-term ramifications? Do repeat infections have heart complications that build up over time? There are many questions now for us to answer,” the statement said. lead author of the study, Professor Jacob Yount of the Ohio State University School of Medicine.


Genetics and risk of complications

Yount’s lab had already discovered that mice lacking the IFITM3 gene, which encodes a key protein in clearing infections from the innate immune system, were at increased risk of developing heart problems during the flu.

The same can be extended to humans. It is estimated that around 4% of the European population has this genetic variation that causes the IFITM3 gene deficiency.

“We know that these people are more susceptible to severe flu infections, and our research in mice suggests that they are also more susceptible to heart complications with the flu,” he added.

Although the study is still in its early stages, Yount says he believes the findings suggest that one’s ability to clear the virus could be key to reducing heart damage in flu patients.

He stresses the importance of flu vaccination. In Brazil, the immunization campaign started on April 4 for health professionals and the elderly, and was extended to other priority groups on May 2such as children up to 5 years old, pregnant women, puerperal women, indigenous people and others.

Vaccination coverage, however, is at 30.4%, far below the 90% desired by the Ministry of Health.

At an event at the Butantan Institute and the pharmaceutical company Sanofi, at the end of April, infectious disease specialist Rosana Richtmann, from the Emílio Ribas Institute of Infectious Diseases, drew attention to heart problems associated with the flu.

“There is increasingly a relationship between viruses – and I’m not just talking about influenza – with cardiovascular complications. Having someone who had the flu and then had a heart attack is not an excess of bad luck, but a consequence of what we know it can happen.”


I got the flu shot at the end of the year, should I get it now? Take this and other questions about immunization


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