In the vast majority of children, the immune system properly responds to flu or gastroenteritis viruses but, in rare cases, these viruses will cause severe viral encephalitis. However, a new genetic malady has been discovered and research showed that it can amplify the severity of common viruses in children as it may link directly to severe viral encephalitis.
When theoretically benign diseases can become life-threatening
On this Thursday, March 22nd, researchers announced that they discovered a gene whose mutations can degenerate simple flu into a potentially fatal infection.
“So it’s a new genetic disease of immunity that has been identified,” stated the representatives of the genetic research institute “Imagine” from Paris, in France.
“This translates into extreme vulnerability to viral infections usually not serious, with a precisely localized involvement in the brainstem,” they added.
The gene in question, called DBR1, makes some of us more sensitive in the face of common viruses in our environment such as the flu virus, the norovirus (causing gastroenteritis), and HSV1 (herpes type 1).
Researchers at the Imagine Institute, in Paris, and the Rockefeller Institute, in New York, have demonstrated that in children, a rarely occurring series of mutations of the DBR1 gene disrupt the normal body’s defense system against the before-mentioned viruses.
The new discovery could lead to improved diagnosis and management for children suffering from DBR1 gene mutation
In these particular cases, without proper care, these viruses will cause a very serious complication, severe viral encephalitis, a brainstem infection which can be deadly as it can cause the ‘shut down’ several vital functions.
The discovery will already find applications for medicine.
“This breakthrough will improve diagnosis, genetic counseling for families, and the management of patients with signs of such an infection,” said the Imagine Institute’s researchers.
The lead author of the article that describes this discovery in the journal Cell, Shen-Ying Zhang, now seeks to “create and study models that reproduce the disease to better prevent and treat it,” as she said in the study’s report.