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Immune cells show long-term memory

Almost a century after exposure to the 1918 Spanish flu, survivors’ white blood cells still recognize the virus

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12:23pm, August 17, 2008

Even after 90 years, the immune system doesn’t forget the face of a mass-murderer. A new study shows that survivors of the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic still have immune cells that remember the culprit virus.

Such long-lived immunity was thought to be impossible without periodic exposure to the microbe that stimulated the immune system in the first place. But a study published in advance online August 17 and slated for an upcoming issue of Nature reveals that immunity to a virus can last nearly a century.

“This is a really extraordinary finding,” says Peter Palese, a virologist at Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City who was not involved in the study. “It’s like immunological archaeology.”

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