Podcast Examines Arsenic Exposure's Effect on Flu Susceptibility

In the latest installment of "The Researcher's Perspective," the new podcast series by Environmental Health Perspectives (EHP), Dr. Josh Hamilton discusses the potential implications of his recent mouse study on arsenic exposure and immune response to influenza A/H1N1 (available at www.ehponline.org).

Hamilton and his colleagues found that mice exposed to 100 parts per billion (ppb) arsenic in drinking water had a significantly compromised innate immune response to infection with a mouse-adapted subtype of H1N1 influenza. When this first line of immune defense was suppressed by arsenic, mice infected with H1N1 became severely ill. In comparison, flu symptoms in mice that were not exposed to arsenic were relatively mild, even though the animals were infected with the same H1N1 strain.

In the new podcast Hamilton explained, "With so many people potentially exposed to arsenic in drinking water, the implications for increased mortality from influenza viral infections and bacterial infections could be profound."

Contamination of drinking water by natural geological sources of arsenic is the primary route of exposure to this element. Hundreds of millions of people worldwide, including up to 25 million Americans, drink well water containing levels of arsenic above the Environmental Protection Agency's limit of 10 ppb.

"I would urge anyone who's on a private well supply to have their water tested," Hamilton said. "People may not realize that only public water supplies are regulated by the state and federal government, and that private, unregulated wells are untested [on a routine basis] unless the homeowner chooses to do that."

The study by Hamilton and colleagues, available online and will appear in the September 2009 issue of EHP.

"The Researcher's Perspective" provides a behind-the-scenes look at what researchers are studying and the human health implications of their research. EHP is published by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), part of the Department of Health and Human Services.

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