COVID-19 and our Immunity

Updated: Nov 19, 2020

Immunity is an intricate and convoluted experience for our body, and we are only in the infancy stages of understanding the immune response to COVID-19. How your immune system gets activated, the length of activation, the magnitude, how it spreads, and whether it stays present in different parts of your body can all differ based on the virus. This may mean that immunity may be temporary if it exists at all. 


Researchers in the Blavatnik Institute at Harvard Medical School (HMS) and Brigham and Women’s Hospital are adapting an antibody-detection tool to study the aftermath of infections by the novel coronavirus that is causing the current global pandemic.

"We showed that even though COVID-19 is caused by a new virus, in an otherwise healthy person, a robust immune response across different cell types was associated with clinical recovery, similar to what we see in influenza," said Kedzierska, who is also a laboratory head at the Doherty Institute.

The virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough, for most people but can be severe in some cases, especially older adults and people with existing health problems. People with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may need six weeks to recover.

There are certain requirements that all humans have to maintain a healthy immune system and positive gene expression, which are Hygiene, less stress, better sleep, healthy weight, exercise, and less alcohol consumption.


The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has been issuing warning letters to companies for selling fraudulent products with claims to prevent, treat, mitigate, diagnose or cure COVID-19. So far, these include colloidal silver, essential oils, and certain herbal formulations. Our community must understand that some remedies may make symptoms worse.


With the 2019 coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic, it’s especially important to understand that no supplement, diet, or other lifestyle modification other than social distancing and proper hygiene practices can protect you from COVID-19. Currently, no research supports the use of any supplement to protect against COVID-19 specifically.

Keeping your immune system healthy year-round is key to preventing infection and disease. Making healthy lifestyle choices by consuming nutritious foods and getting enough sleep and exercise are the most important ways to boost your immune system. It’s not just one day or a week job to improve your immune system response.  


Our immune system is essential for our survival. Without an immune system, our bodies would be open to attack from bacteria, viruses, parasites, and more. It is our immune system that keeps us healthy as we drift through a sea of pathogens. This vast network of cells and tissues is constantly on the lookout for invaders, and once an enemy is spotted, a complex attack is mounted. The immune system is spread throughout the body and involves many types of cells, organs, proteins, and tissues. Crucially, it can distinguish our tissue from foreign tissue — self from non-self. Dead and faulty cells are also recognized and cleared away by the immune system.


Everyone’s immune system is different but, as a general rule, it becomes stronger during adulthood as, by this time, we have been exposed to more pathogens and developed more immunity. That is why teens and adults tend to get sick less often than children. Once an antibody has been produced, a copy remains in the body so that if the same antigen appears again, it can be dealt with more quickly.


We are all born with some level of immunity to invaders. Human immune systems, similar to those of many animals, will attack foreign invaders from day one. This innate immunity includes the external barriers of our body — the first line of defense against pathogens — such as the skin and mucous membranes of the throat and gut. This response is more general and non-specific. If the pathogen manages to dodge the innate immune system, adaptive or acquired immunity kicks in, which protects from pathogens develop as we go through life. As we are exposed to diseases or get vaccinated, we build up a library of antibodies to different pathogens. This is sometimes referred to as immunological memory because our immune system remembers previous enemies.

The acquired immunity is either passive or active. The passive type of immunity is “borrowed” from another source, but it does not last indefinitely. For instance, a baby receives antibodies from the mother through the placenta before birth and in breast milk following birth. This passive immunity protects the baby from some infections during the early years of their life.

Active immunity is made by introducing antigens or weakened pathogens to a person in such a way that the individual does not become sick but still produces antibodies. Because the body saves copies of the antibodies, it is protected if the threat should reappear later in life.


There are a lot of myths surrounding the boosting of your immune system with the use of supplements and certain drugs, which by far are myths and cannot be relied upon. The immune system can remain healthy if you have lived an active healthy life over the years and do not need any boosting in such cases. But, if you have become much concerned, you can always revert your lifestyle to a healthier one to give a chance to your immune system to react.


Here I want to explain another concept of Herd immunity and how is this related to coronavirus.


Herd immunity (also known as community immunity) is defined by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as “a situation in which a sufficient proportion of a population is immune to an infectious disease (through vaccination and/or prior illness) to make its spread from person to person unlikely.”


In other words, where herd immunity exists—when lots of people in an area are vaccinated or have already been infected with a disease—fewer people get sick, and fewer germs can spread from person to person.  The CDC adds that even people who are not vaccinated, like newborn babies and individuals with chronic illnesses, have some level of protection because the disease can’t spread within the community.


You might think, "If herd immunity protects me, why do I need to get vaccinated?" Vaccines are still the best way to protect yourself, Cohn says. And you may one day travel to a place where vaccine coverage isn't so high. "While herd immunity is an amazing benefit to having high vaccination coverage, direct protection if you can get vaccinated is the best way to protect your child and yourself from vaccine-preventable diseases," Cohn says.


As the novel coronavirus spreads through much of the globe, the debate over the effectiveness of "herd immunity" continues to swirl in public health and policy circles. But the voracity of COVID-19 is threatening to shatter health care infrastructures, leading most experts to argue that without a vaccine, it is likely to do more harm than good. "Herd immunity works best when we have a vaccine as well as a disease which doesn't have serious consequences," Whyte continued. "With no vaccine for coronavirus, it makes herd immunity less effective -- and this disease has serious consequences in some people."


"The U.K. initially stated they would rely on herd immunity but quickly did a course correction when modeling showed their hospital system would not be able to address all the serious cases," Whyte explained. "Even if 80 or 90 percent have a mild case, 10 percent is a large number of people for the health system to absorb."


However, other countries – such as the Netherlands – have continued to deploy the theory, despite it being deemed a risky gamble.


"The reality is that shortly, a large part of the Dutch population will be infected with the virus," Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said in a presidential address last week. "We can slow down the spread of the virus while building controlled group immunity."


According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the nature of the coronavirus pandemic requires significantly greater action. Many experts consider the approach to be theoretically sound, but unwise given the absence of a vaccine and the notion that a vaccine will take at least a year to develop.


Besides, Dr. Stanley Weiss, a professor of Medicine and Epidemiology at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School, underscored that there are still too many unknowns around the novel virus and that the models so far are incomplete, meaning that herd immunity is simply too risky to be relied upon amid the crisis.


"We expect that at some time it will help diminish the spread of COVID-19, based on the assumptions that persons who are infected and recover will have protective immunity," Weiss said. "However, with SARS, data suggested protective immunity was of limited duration. Thus, the precise temporal dynamics may prove very important. For example, there could be recurrent waves. We hope with COVID-19, but do not yet know that they won't become re-infected." He also pointed out that herd immunity will only be effective on the basis that the virus won't change in ways such that it might evade such protective immunity, and that other similar but different coronaviruses don't emerge.

Several researchers have put forward the idea that immunity is perhaps the best route to return to normality. If the studies in China are any indication, this line of thinking is not without merit.


The data from China show that 80 percent of cases were mild, more like a bad case of flu, and 14 percent of patients developed a serious illness. The five percent who died were elderly or people with compromised immunity. So it’s clear that a person’s immunity can ward off the virus attack.


The COVID-19 virus is new to the world. So it’s unlikely anyone is immune to it. Which is why letting it spread is not a good idea. Many people will fall ill critically, and some can die.


In the absence of a cure, a vaccine and a swift reliable antibody test (PCR tests — reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction — are the only option now), we can’t say for sure when we all will be immune, or when we can resume normal activity. So let’s take action. Social distancing remains the best option now. Stay at home. Wash our hands. And wait for the virus to blow over.


 

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