Study reveals how bacteria ‘trick’ the immune system

A recent study from UCLA has uncovered a devious strategy bacteria use to fool the immune system into harboring and even protecting them: masquerading as a virus.

Researchers demonstrated that certain bacteria were able to elicit an incorrect immune response, prompting the release of interferon-beta, a protective protein designed to fight viruses. Not only is interferon-beta ineffective against bacteria, its presence can actively inhibit interferon-gamma, a protein released when the body correctly recognizes a bacterial threat.

This finding helps shed light on the mechanisms underlying the increased vulnerability to bacterial infections after contracting a viral infection like the flu.

UCLA’s observations are considered especially meaningful in the face of increasing rates of tuberculosis, a highly contagious bacterial infection that infects 8.7 million and kills 1.4 million annually. The rise in the number of cases of TB is particularly relevant for Los Angeles, a city recently hit with a outbreak of TB among the homeless population severe enough to warrant an emergency dispatch of scientists from the CDC to help contain it.

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