Can antibodies from previous flu viruses improve your chances of fighting off the novel coronavirus?

As someone who has had MANY flu viruses in my life, because I have been unable to get flu vaccines for decades, and also as one who has lived in Southeast Asia and China quite a bit, I cannot help but wonder whether the millions of antibodies I now carry might provide some protection from the novel coronavirus.

“A novel coronavirus is a new coronavirus that has not been previously identified. The virus causing coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), is not the same as the coronaviruses that commonly circulate among humans and cause mild illness, like the common cold.” -CDC Coronavirus

As a medical researcher in my past life as a librarian, I thought I could get some idea of what present research says about this important question. My most memorable experience with flu virus was in 1968 when I caught the Hong Kong flu (H3N2). I was severely ill with this to the point of passing out and delirium. A woman on the next block from us died from it.

In an article in Science Daily from February 4th 2020 I found this:

“A team [of] UCLA and Arizona scientists reported in 2016 that exposure to influenza viruses during childhood gives people partial protection for the rest of their lives against distantly related influenza viruses. Biologists call the idea that past exposure to the flu virus determines a person’s future response to infections “immunological imprinting.”

This research helped overturn a commonly held belief that previous exposure to a flu virus conferred little or no immunological protection against strains that can jump from animals into humans, such as those causing the strains known as swine flu or bird flu. Those strains, which have caused hundreds of spillover cases of severe illness and death in humans, are of global concern because they could gain mutations that allow them to readily jump not only from animal populations to humans, but also to spread rapidly from person to person.

This is not to say you should make any assumptions about your own antibodies and risk exposure to this present pandemic. I just wish new antibody tests were much more dependable and available at this point!

3 thoughts on “Can antibodies from previous flu viruses improve your chances of fighting off the novel coronavirus?

  1. I’m curious about the antibody test too. I haven’t had the flu in several years as I get the shot every fall. But I’m just interested to know if I may have had the coronavirus when I was sick in March.

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  2. I am curious about the antibody tests too, and understand a positive reaction shows either the person was exposed to the virus in the past (distant or recent?) or has the coronavirus now. I wonder if having had the flu, as you mention, would give some limited immunity to the current virus. I am pleased with how our President is leading us, when medical experts have differing opinions.

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