Non-specific effects of BCG vaccine on viral infections

Clin Microbiol Infect. 2019 Dec;25(12):1473-1478. doi: 10.1016/j.cmi.2019.04.020. Epub 2019 May 2.


Background: Some strains of Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG) vaccine not only confer protection against disseminated forms of tuberculosis, but also reduce all-cause mortality by the induction of protection against infections with non-related pathogens.

Objectives: We review evidence for non-specific protection induced by BCG vaccination against viral infections, discuss possible mechanisms of action, and summarize implications for vaccination policies and vaccine discovery.

Sources: Relevant studies retrieved from PubMed and

Content: Numerous epidemiological, clinical and immunological studies demonstrate that BCG vaccination impacts the immune response to subsequent infections, resulting in reduced morbidity and mortality. Important lines of evidence indicating that BCG protects against viral pathogens comes from experimental studies in mice showing that BCG offers protection against various DNA and RNA viruses, including herpes and influenza viruses. Recently, the effect of BCG on an experimental viral infection in humans has been demonstrated. These effects are thought to be mediated via the induction of innate immune memory and heterologous lymphocyte activation, resulting in enhanced cytokine production, macrophage activity, T-cell responses and antibody titres.

Implications: The discovery of innate immune memory has greatly improved our understanding of the mechanisms underlying the non-specific effects induced by BCG vaccination. However, a full understanding of the molecular mechanisms that underlie this phenomenon is still evolving. By identifying the factors that impact the non-specific effects of BCG, we will take an important step towards novel therapeutic options and vaccination strategies, which might lead to a reduction in severe morbidity and mortality associated with viral infections.

Keywords: BCG; Innate immune memory; Non-specific effects of vaccines; Trained immunity; Viral infection.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • BCG Vaccine / administration & dosage
  • BCG Vaccine / immunology*
  • Cross Protection / immunology*
  • Disease Resistance / immunology
  • Humans
  • Immunity, Heterologous / immunology
  • Immunity, Innate
  • Immunologic Memory
  • Lymphocyte Activation
  • Virus Diseases / epidemiology
  • Virus Diseases / mortality
  • Virus Diseases / prevention & control*


  • BCG Vaccine