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Influenza and Bacterial Infection

  • 01 Dec 2020
  • 5 min read

Why in News

Recently, researches at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute have come out with findings on superinfections and have also highlighted that influenza makes people more susceptible to bacterial infections.

Key Points

  • Superinfections: These are infection occurring after or on top of an earlier infection, especially following treatment with broad-spectrum antibiotics. It is an overgrowth of an opportunistic pathogen from the bacterial or yeast imbalance of systemic antibiotics.
    • For example, influenza is caused by a virus, but the most common cause of death in influenza patients is secondary pneumonia, which is caused by bacteria.
      • However, the reason behind influenza infections leading to an increased risk of bacterial pneumonia is not known.
  • Case study of Spanish Flu:
    • It was an influenza pandemic that swept across the world in the year 1918–1920.
    • It disproportionately hit young healthy adults and important reason for this was superinfections caused by bacteria, in particular pneumococci.
      • Pneumococcal infections are the most common cause of community acquired pneumonia and a leading global cause of death.
      • A prior influenza virus infection is often followed by a pneumococcal infection.
  • Findings of the Research:
    • When an individual is infected by influenza different nutrients and antioxidants, such as vitamin C, leak from the blood.
    • The absence of nutrients and antioxidants creates a favourable environment for bacteria in the lungs.
    • The bacteria adapt to the inflammatory environment by increasing the production of an enzyme called High temperature requirement A (HtrA).
    • The presence of HtrA weakens the immune system and promotes bacterial growth in the influenza-infected airways.
    • The ability of pneumococcus to grow seems to depend on the nutrient-rich environment with its higher levels of antioxidants that occurs during a viral infection, as well as on the bacteria’s ability to adapt to the environment and protect itself from being eradicated by the immune system.
  • Significance:
    • The results could be used to find new therapies for double infections between the influenza virus and pneumococcal bacteria.
      • A possible strategy can therefore be use of protease inhibitors to prevent pneumococcal growth in the lungs.
    • The information can contribute to the research on Covid-19.
      • However, it is still not known if Covid-19 patients are also sensitive to such secondary bacterial infections.


  • It is a viral infection that attacks the respiratory system i.e. nose, throat and lungs and is commonly called the flu.
  • Symptoms: Fever, chills, muscle aches, cough, congestion, runny nose, headaches and fatigue.
  • Common Treatment:
    • Flu is primarily treated with rest and fluid intake to allow the body to fight the infection on its own.
    • Paracetamol may help cure the symptoms but Non Steroidal Anti-inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) should be avoided. An annual vaccine can help prevent the flu and limit its complications.
  • Young children, older adults, pregnant women and people with chronic disease or weak immune systems are at high risk.


  • It is an infection that inflames the air sacs in one or both lungs. The air sacs may fill with fluid or pus.
  • Cause: Variety of organisms, including bacteria, viruses and fungi.
  • Symptoms: Cough with phlegm or pus, fever, chills and difficulty breathing.
  • Treatment: Antibiotics can treat many forms of pneumonia. Some forms of pneumonia can be prevented by vaccines.
  • The infection can be life-threatening to anyone, but particularly to infants, children and people over 65.


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