Viral infection may be linked to asthma deaths


WESTPORT, CT (Reuters Health) – The high prevalence of cytotoxic CD8+ T lymphocytes in lung tissue from victims of fatal asthma attacks suggests that an abnormal response to viral infection might play a part in such events, according to European researchers.

Dr. Siobhבn O'Sullivan, of Royal Free and University College School of Medicine in London, and colleagues note that viral infections appear to exacerbate asthma and may do so via mechanisms involving inflammatory cells, particularly lymphocytes.

To determine whether this might also be a factor in asthma deaths, the researchers studied peribronchial lung tissue from seven patients who had died from asthma. These were compared with similar samples from seven asthmatics who had died from unrelated causes. Control samples were obtained post-mortem from seven patients with no history of lung disease.

The researchers found evidence of rhinovirus and respiratory syncytial virus in the asthmatic groups, and no viral genome was seen in control samples, they report in the August 15th issue of the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine.

Furthermore, although there was no difference in viral burden or the prevalence of viral infection between asthmatic groups, there was "an expanded CD8+ T-cell population, dominated by activated cytotoxic CD8+ lymphocytes" in those who died from asthma.

Dr. O'Sullivan told Reuters Health that the findings, so far, are "the first step in potentially identifying a subgroup of asthmatics who may be at increased risk of mortality due to an innate aberrant immune response to common respiratory viruses."

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