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Are you genetically less likely to get the flu?

Key takeaways:
~ Not everyone gets the flu when exposed to it.
~ Genetic variants can decrease your susceptibility to specific strains.

The dreaded influenza…

Have you ever wondered why some people never seem to get the flu when it is going around? Turns out that our genes play a role in both our immune response to the flu virus and the virus’s ability to replicate in us.

No one wants to get the flu. You feel terrible for a week or so, and the fatigue sometimes lingers even longer.

But have you ever noticed that some people never seem to get the flu?

It turns out that genetically, some people are protected against different variants of the influenza viruses.

Flu strains:

Influenza – the flu – can be caused by several different strains of the virus. Usually, there is an influenza A (H3N2 or H1N1) and a strain of influenza B that circulates each year. The specific strains change each year.[ref]

Interestingly, studies show that the majority of people exposed to a new flu strain don’t get the flu – they remain asymptomatic.[ref]

The flu virus invades the epithelial cells that line your upper respiratory tract – nose, sinuses, pharynx, and larynx. Once the virus enters the cell, it is replicated by the host cell (your) RNA replication mechanisms. The new viral proteins reassemble and then are taken to the cell surface to be released.[ref]

Your immune system kicks into high gear to fight off the foreign viral proteins.

Immune system players:

Genetic variants in the cytokine-producing interleukin genes have been found to alter people’s susceptibility to the flu.


When the immune system recognizes the foreign viral particles through pattern recognition receptors, it activates production of pro-inflammatory cytokines and chemokines, including IL-1β (interleukin 1 beta).

These variants don’t completely protect you from getting the flu -just statistically make it less likely that you will come down with it. You still need to take the usual precautions against the flu… complications from the flu kill a lot of people each year.[ref]

A 2016 study looked at genetic variants in some of the genes involved in an immune response. It found that variants in IL17 (interleukin-17), IL28 (interleukin-28), and IL1B (interleukin-1 Beta) decreased the risk of getting the flu.[ref]

Keep in mind that even if you are at half the normal risk, you can still get the flu if you are exposed to it, especially if you have a compromised immune system.

Complement system:

Another part of your innate immune response is the complement system. The complement system proteins circulate in an inactive state and are triggered by certain microbes. Activation of this system then stimulates other parts of the immune system to kick into high gear.

Certain genetic variants in the complement system are linked to susceptibility to H1N1 flu strains.[ref]

Flu Genotype Report

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While you may have variants that are protective against certain strains of the flu, no one seems to be immune to all strains.

Map it out:
The CDC’s interactive map shows when the flu becomes widespread in parts of the US.

The CDC recommendations for the flu include staying away from people who have the flu and washing your hands. Additionally, if you have symptoms of the flu, stay home so that you don’t spread it.

What about masks? A number of trials on viral respiratory illnesses and wearing masks have been conducted over the past couple of decades. A Cochrane summary of the evidence found that masks make little to no difference in influenza.[ref]


In some countries, gargling is a traditional way to prevent the flu. Research shows that regular gargling reduces the risk of getting the flu.[ref] You could try gargling with green tea, salt water, povidone-iodine 0.23% solution, or mouthwash during flu season.[ref][ref]

Natural products with research showing they inhibit the flu virus:

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Related Articles and Topics:

Every year about 3 to 5 million people get the flu, and this results in about 250,000 to 500,000 deaths worldwide. One common prescription medication for the flu is Tamiflu, also known as oseltamivir. There are a couple of genetic variants that influence the way that oseltamivir works.

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About the Author:
Debbie Moon is the founder of Genetic Lifehacks. Fascinated by the connections between genes, diet, and health, her goal is to help you understand how to apply genetics to your diet and lifestyle decisions. Debbie has a BS in engineering from Colorado School of Mines and an MSc in biological sciences from Clemson University. Debbie combines an engineering mindset with a biological systems approach to help you understand how genetic differences impact your optimal health.