Viral Interference: Influenza and Corona

Viral interference is the inhibition of one virus caused by a previous exposure to another virus or vaccine. The exact mechanism for viral interference remains unknown.
Scientists assume that most cases of viral interference are mediated by interferon, a signaling protein, that is produced and released by cells in response to several viruses. Such an interferon release will cause nearby cells the heighten their anti-viral defenses.

In theory, if you have had an infection with an Influenza virus, you might be (partially) protected from an infection of a totally different virus, such as a coronavirus. And, because a vaccine is containing a part of a virus, being vaccinated may have the same results.

At this moment the world is suffering from disease and death of a novel coronavirus, Covid-19 and its many mutations. Would a previous infection with an Influenza virus or vaccination to counter such an infection have any impact on an infection with this new coronavirus?

But how do you prove that viral interference actually works?

In the United States about 50 percent of children receive a vaccination against Influenza viruses. Researchers investigated the effect of influenza vaccines on the disease course of coronavirus in the pediatric population and the possibility of viral interference[1].

They looked at medical records of 905 children who tested positive for Covid-19 when they were admitted to Arkansas Children's Hospital System between February 1 and August 30, 2020. As could be expected, roughly half had been given the seasonal Influenza vaccine. The data showed children that had received their Influenza vaccine were 29 per cent less likely to develop symptoms of Covid-19 following infection with the coronavirus.

Those who were vaccinated for influenza were also found to a have 32 percent reduced risk of developing respiratory symptoms and a 33 percent drop in the chance of developing severe disease, the scientists found.

While the study only looked at children, the scientists expect that the same results may be observed in the adult population.

[1] Patwardhan, Ohler: The Flu Vaccination May Have a Protective Effect on the Course of COVID-19 in the Pediatric Population: When Does Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) Meet Influenza? In Cureus – 2021. See here.

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