Asthmatics more susceptible to cold virus infection

Jan 7 2016

Research Archive from 2006

A Hunter Medical Research Institute (HMRI) study has identified why asthmatics are more susceptible to the effects of the common cold which could lead to new treatments for acute asthma and health care savings.

Results of a study by researcher Dr Peter Wark from John Hunter Hospital and colleagues in the United Kingdom* which have been published in the journal Nature Medicine, showed that cells which line the airways of people with asthma are more susceptible to infection with the cold virus.

Researchers found that asthmatic airway cells and immune cells responded poorly to infection with the cold virus. Participants who recorded the greatest worsening of asthma showing increased inflammation, lower lung function and were deficient in the release of antiviral proteins (interferons) in response to infection.

“Our research indicates that asthmatics have a deficient early immune response to cold which is directly related to the worsening of their asthma,” said Dr Wark.

“These findings open up possibilities for numerous new therapeutic targets to either correct this defect or minimise it to reduce the severity of acute virus asthma.”

According to Dr Wark current treatments for acute asthma are limited and few new drugs have been developed in the past 25 years. These findings are exciting as they show a potential new area for investigation and the development of better treatments.

“If we were able to treat this there would be an enormous reduction of hospital admissions which would bring a substantial cost reduction to health services,” said Dr Wark.

Common cold infections can lead to a severe worsening of asthma and accounts for most admissions to hospital with asthma in adults and children.
“It is also possible that recurring viral infections will worsen asthma control, so having an effective intervention that stops it from happening would also stop deterioration.”

Dr Wark and his colleagues at Southampton University and the Imperial College, London, will continue to investigate the mechanism behind this abnormality, to see if it has relevance to other chest diseases where people are prone to the effects of virus infection.