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Updated 10:00 AM November 9, 2009

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Education could influence who's more likely to get flu

People who did not earn a high school diploma could be more likely to get H1N1 and the vaccine might be less effective in them compared to those who earned a diploma, new research shows.

The U-M study looked at a latent virus called CMV in young people, and the body's ability to control the virus. Previous studies have shown that elderly people with less education are less successful at fighting off CMV, but this is the first study to make that connection in younger adults as well, says study co-author Jennifer Dowd, who began the work while a Health and Society scholar at the School of Public Health (SPH).

Previous studies have shown that high levels of CMV antibodies make it tougher for the elderly to fight new infections like H1N1, and hamper the body's immune response to the flu vaccine. The findings suggest that lower socioeconomic status may make it tougher even for adults of all ages to fight new infections and may make the flu vaccine less effective.

"We're showing that the ability to keep CMV under control varies by income and education even at much younger ages, and this could have implications for the ability to fight new infections like H1N1 for all ages, not just the elderly," says Dowd, now an assistant professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at Hunter College. Allison Aiello, assistant professor of epidemiology at SPH is co-author.

"This study points out that certain groups are potentially more susceptible and it's not just people with existing chronic illness," Dowd says.

The study will appear in an upcoming issue of the journal Epidemiology.

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