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Estrogen protects women against the flu, study finds

The female sex hormone estrogen has anti-viral effects against the influenza A virus, commonly known as the flu, a new study in American Journal of Physiology—Lung Cellular and Molecular Physiology reports.

A virus infects and causes sickness by entering a cell and making copies of itself inside the host cell. When released from infected cells, the virus can spread through the body and between people. How much a virus has replicated determines its severity. Less replication of the virus means the infected person may experience less disease or is less likely to spread the disease to someone else, says Sabra Klein, PhD, of Johns Hopkins University and lead investigator of the study.

To examine how estrogen affected the virus’s ability to replicate, the research team gathered nasal cells—the cell type that the flu virus primarily infects—from male and female donors. The researchers exposed the cell cultures to the , estrogen, the environmental estrogen bisphenol A and selective estrogen receptor modulators (SERM), which are compounds that act like estrogen that are used for hormone therapy.

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