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Severe pandemic 2009 H1N1 influenza disease due to pathogenic immune complexes


Pandemic influenza viruses often cause severe disease in middle-aged adults without preexistent co-morbidities. The mechanism of illness associated with severe disease in this age group is not well understood. Here, we demonstrate preexisting serum antibody that cross-reacts with, but does not protect against 2009 H1N1 influenza virus in middle-aged adults. Non-protective antibody is associated with immune complex(IC)-mediated disease after infection. High titers of serum antibody of low avidity for H1-2009 antigen, and low avidity pulmonary ICs against the same protein were detected in severely ill patients. Moreover, C4d deposition - a sensitive marker of complement activation mediated by ICs- was present in lung sections of fatal cases. Archived lung sections from adults with confirmed fatal influenza 1957 H2N2 infection revealed a similar mechanism of illness. These observations provide a novel biological mechanism for the unusual age distribution of severe cases during influenza pandemics.


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