PICFLU STUDY

We found that patients that have Influenza and also became sick from methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) bacteria are at much higher risk of dying, and that treating these cases with the antibiotic vancomycin alone is not enough; vancomycin, along with a second form of anti-MRSA treatment is much more effective. 

In some cases of severe influenza, “cytokine storms” occur where immune cells are overproduced, leading to respiratory distress and risk of secondary infection. By taking respiratory samples from patients with severe flu, we measured the associations between the levels of cytokines and health outcomes (lung injury, need for life support, septic shock). 

Our goal was to find a way to identify patients who are currently healthy but at risk for very serious influenza infection. The protein IFITM3 is known to block viruses trying to enter cells, and we found that a variation of the gene that creates IFITM3 can be a useful screening marker to find those patients who are at risk for severe outcomes.   

In previous studies, a specific variant in the IFITM3 protein, called rs12252, was thought to be connected to serious influenza infection in adults. We studied this variant in children, and did not find an association between rs12252 and how sick a child became with the flu. 

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Our immune system produces many important proteins that help fight against illness, and one of these proteins is called the Tumor Necrosis Factor (TNF). We wanted to study how children’s immune systems respond against influenza, and we found that those who did not survive were not able to produce enough TNF. Many non-survivors were also infected with Staphylococcus aureus, suggesting new directions for therapies and treatments.

FINDINGS TO DATE:

Children who have the flu and are also infected with methicillin resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) are at extremely high risk of dying. We found that patients with both the flu and MRSA produce high levels of a protein called “alpha-toxin”, which damages the body and leads to worse health outcomes. Creating treatments that can fight against these alpha-toxins may be able to save more lives.