New Research: The Flu Can Impact Your Brain

area of the brain affected by the flu

Recent research suggests the flu could do more damage than making you call off work a couple days. The Society for Neuroscience recently conducted a study showing the flu can potentially change the structure and function of the brain up to one month after infection.

In the study, female mice were infected with three strains of the flu virus. Two of the strains, H3N2 and H7N7, were found to create memory impairments associated with structural changes to the neurons of the hippocampus. In addition, flu infections also triggered the brain’s immune cells in this region altering the expression of genes associated with contributing to disorders like autism, depression, and schizophrenia.

Know the Brain: What is the Hippocampus?

The hippocampus is a small, curved formation in the brain located an inch and a half inside the head just above each ear. It forms part of the limbic system which is responsible for several cognitive and emotional functions. The hippocampus helps form new memories and connects certain sensations and emotions with memories. Has a person’s perfume ever triggered a memory of someone you knew years ago? That’s the work of the hippocampus.

Protect Yourself from the Flu

This study suggests some strains of the flu can be a threat to healthy brain function. Luckily, there are easy ways to protect yourself and loved ones from getting the flu. Here are some tips from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC):

  • Get vaccinated. The CDC recommends everyone 6 months of age get vaccinated for the flu.
  • When possible, avoid contact with sick people.
  • Wash hands thoroughly and often. Use soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Clean and disinfect areas that may be contaminated.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. These are the easiest ways for germs to enter your body.
  • Take antiviral drugs if your doctor recommends it, especially if you are at high risk for flu complications.

Though getting the flu may not be completely unavoidable, taking the necessary precautions can reduce your chance of getting infected and having serious complications.