Researchers discovered that influenza infection increased the activation of glial cells in the brain, cells that trigger a process that leads to neurologic dysfunction.

The flu is caused by the human influenza virus and, despite being unpleasant, usually resolves itself within days. However, for people with MS and other neurological conditions, the flu can lead to disease relapse.

Researchers at the University of Illinois investigated what happens in the brain of MS patients during upper-respiratory viral infections, such as the flu.

“We know that when MS patients get upper respiratory infections, they’re at risk for relapse, but how that happens is not completely understood,” Andrew Steelman, an assistant professor at the university and the study’s senior author, said in a press release. “A huge question is what causes relapse, and why immune cells all of a sudden want to go to the brain. Why don’t they go to the toe?”

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