Many studies have shown that more severe illness and even death are likely to result if you develop a secondary respiratory infection after developing influenza. Now, however, a team of researchers has determined that if you reverse the order of infection, the bacteria Streptococcus pneumoniae (often called pneumococcus) may actually protect against a bad case of the flu.

The researchers discovered that the bacterial protein pneumolysin, which is described as a bacterial virulence factor, might protect macrophages — a type of immune system cell — in the lungs. Their findings, performed in a mouse model of influenza infection, appear in the August issue of the journal Virology, available online now.

“Pneumococci often colonize the respiratory tract asymptomatically, particularly in children, leading us to consider how pre-colonization would impact a subsequent influenza infection,”┬ásaid Jan Erikson, PhD, professor at The Wistar Institute.