Immunity in Covid 19

Covid 19 has been ravaging the world and humanity in general for the last 4 months or so since we lost control in the middle of January. The human body experiences many thousands of viruses during a lifetime, so we wonder what makes this SARS-CoV-2 virus so deadly. In order to do this, we must understand how the immune system works.

The virus, or any foreign particle, is called an antigen (ANTIbodyGENerating). It allows the body to recognize it as foreign and defend and eventually remove this. This works for everything in the body including bacteria, viruses, parasites, worms, transplanted organs and even babies in rare cases. But this protection takes time to develop, usually about 7-10 days the first time you get an infection and about 14-15 days to get strong enough to fight it off.

Most cough, cold and viral disease have an incubation period, this is the time that the virus slips into the body and the body takes time to detect it and fight it. This is the time that you do not even realize you are sick or have only mild symptoms. Once the immune system recognizes the infection and starts to fight, you start to feel symptoms of weakness, malaise, fatigue, muscle soreness, joint ache and fever. This is your immune system ramping up and activating itself. Most people do not realize that most symptoms of viral disease are not directly from the effect of the virus but the effect of our immune system in fighting the virus. The stronger the immune response and more acute your symptoms will be.

In Covid 19 because the body has never seen the virus it takes about 7-10 days after getting infected to get an immune response. Now depending on your genetics and overall health this can go many ways. You can naturally defeat the infection with only a minimal response and only have mild disease or only asymptomatic. This happens in about 80% of people. About 15% will have symptomatic disease that will need to be admitted to hospital on low amounts of oxygen. In about 5% of people the immune system goes absolutely berserk and develops an uncontrolled immune response which is called a cytokine storm. This uncontrolled immune response where almost the entire immune system is activated causing so much disease fighting chemicals (called Interferons and Interleukins) to be released into the body it starts harming the body’s own organs itself causing multi-organ failure (Acute Liver and Kidney Failure, Heart failure, Low Blood Pressure, Severe Pneumonia called ARDS etc) which if cannot be controlled eventually leads to death. This happens in about 1-3% of all infected patients.

Which begs the question is how do we prevent this from happening. Well ideally we do not want to get sick to begin with so practicing good hand and social hygiene is important. We keep our self in good health and get regular check ups to detect any possible health condition early and get started on treatment to prevent other chronic disease from getting too advanced. Also, good control of these diseases is imperative so as to ensure we have lots of organ capacity in case we do get sick. These chronic diseases deplete the immune system as less energy and resources are available to the immune system to fight infections as the body is already busy dealing with poor organ function and those effects.

A good balanced diet and plenty of sleep ensures high levels of endorphins, proteins, minerals, antioxidants, and low levels of cortisol (stress hormone) which help promote good immune function. We read a lot about health foods and turmeric and others which help prevent disease and are immune boosters. These are at best accessories, but do not replace good food habits, exercise, hygiene and sleep. There is talk of homeopathy, while the trouble is most allopathy (western medicine) doctors do not know what is contained in these drugs and hence are unable to prescribe a treatment regimen that includes them, so always to be taken with a pinch of salt.

Please understand that there is no conclusive drug or treatment right now that is known for this disease. So please take good care of your health and remember, prevention is always better than cure.

To know more about Covid 19, please watch this video Dr. Aviral Roy, Consultant- Intensivist at MEDICA Superspecialty Hospital, Kolkata.

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