Research from Aarhus University shows that influenza is able to mask itself, which means the virus can not initially be detected by the immune system. According to a Science Daily report, the researchers hope that this discovery can be used to develop better treatment against influenza and other chronic inflammation conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis. Essentially, the research reveals that the influenza virus cheats the mechanism and is therefore able to circumvent the body’s advanced defense system. The findings of the study were published in the journal Nature Communications.

The Science Daily news report indicates that the influenza virus has developed this weapon against the immune system through evolution. The research team discovered the mechanism by giving cells in in the lab an evolutionarily conserved influenza virus protein, and the result was that the cells became poorer at defending themselves against influenza viruses and other types of viruses.

“This indicates that the recognition mechanism in the immune system that the influenza virus evades is generally important for the body’s ability to defend itself against viruses. It is therefore important basic research knowledge for us,” Christian Holm of Aarhus University says. “The virus contains a protein that masks the virus entering the cell. In this way, the influenza virus can spread more easily before the immune system recognizes that it is a virus and attempts to fight it. The more knowledge we have about why a virus becomes dangerous, the easier it is to develop treatments.”

The protein that is able to mask the influenza virus from the immune system may not only apply to combating influenza, but it may be possible to use it to fight other autoimmune diseases and the rare disease lupus. In these diseases, the immune system attacks healthy cells and tissues and creates chronic inflammation, as indicated on the Science Daily report.

Holm explains, “The protein’s immunosuppressant effect can possibly be used to develop better treatments for these types of diseases, where the immune system is chronically overactive. By suppressing the immune system’s reaction, the symptoms can be reduced. The results of our research can also be used to examine this in more detail.”

Sources: Science Daily, Aarhus University