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Arsenic & Flu

July 2, 2009

Exposure to arsenic, a water pollutant, makes mice more vulnerable to swine flu.


Aiding and abetting swine flu. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

The swine flu hits some people much harder than others. In some cases, arsenic-tainted water may be the key. This according to Josh Hamilton, chief scientific officer of the Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory. Looking at mice, his team found that arsenic exposure weakens the animals’ ability to fight the flu virus, by delaying the immune response in their lungs.

JOSH HAMILTON (Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory):
It’s as if the mouse was not sensing that it was infected, and was not responding in a normal way.

When the immune reaction finally came, it went overboard and made the mice even sicker. Although this hasn’t yet been studied in people, Hamilton notes that flu hotspots like Mexico tend to have more arsenic in their drinking water. He says the chief concern in the US is water from private wells, which aren’t regulated by the EPA. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.