Coronavirus caught the world off guard when it launched its attack back in December and the consequences have been devastating. More than 100,00 lives have been lost worldwide to the virus since it first appeared in Wuhan, China. With no prior immunity to the virus and a vaccine a year off by best estimates, people are helplessly fallen prey to the pathogen.
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It may be true that there is currently no known way to boost your immune system to keep the threat at bay, but not all hope is lost.
According to Paul Klenerman, author of The Immune System: A Very Short Introduction and Professor of Immunology at the University of Oxford, you can take preemptive measures by preventing the immune system getting “depressed”.
As Prof Kelnerman explained, unhealthy lifestyle habits can suppress your immune system, which stops it from operating at an optimal level.
A lack of a variety of minerals and vitamins can cause immune suppression, he says, so the best advice is to eat a healthy, balanced diet.
Exercise is also important for preserving the immune system and protecting against type 2 diabetes, which can hamper the body’s defence system, he said.
“Exercise is actually a well-recognised way of boosting a process called ‘autophagy’ which protects against ageing and may help with maintaining good immunity throughout life,” noted Prof Kelnerman.
Why are some people affected by COVID-19 more than others?
As he points out, the reason why some patients suffer very severe disease is not currently known, although it is clear the disease is much more significant in the elderly, with increased risk in males and those with underlying disease.
“All of these can negatively impact on both the early innate response and the later responses,” said Prof Kelnerman.
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He continued: “What seems to be emerging is that some of the later disease that is very severe is actually caused by an immune response that is out of control, so people are actively testing drugs that suppress the immune response.
“This may seem like a paradox, as having a suppressed immune system may put you at a higher risk initially – but really it is a matter of timing.”
Prof Kelnerman continued: “Generally, to be most effective an immune response needs to be strong early and then be tuned down so it does not cause damage.”
What happens when a virus infects the body?
According to Prof Kelnerman, when a virus infects the body there is an immediate response to it – a so-called “innate” immunity.
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This acts to limit the amount of virus growing in the infected tissue – the airways in the case of COVID-19.
“Essentially it puts the system on ‘lockdown’ and limits the spread. Like the national lockdown, there is a price to pay for this and the tissue can become inflamed (for example causing a cough), while the person may suffer general symptoms like fever,” he explained.
If the early response is very effective these symptoms may be in fact very limited, noted Prof Kelnerman.
He continued: “Following this there is the development of more specific (“adaptive”) immunity – directed in this case against COVID-19.
“This process is more like the vaccine programmes that are now underway – it takes longer but is essential to completely clear the virus.
“It also protects against future infections. The immunity can be measured by the presence of antibodies – this forms the basis of an important way of testing for previous exposure to the virus.”
Coronavirus – UK latest
UK’s COVID-19 death toll passed 18,000 after a further 763 victims died in 24 hours.
This comes after an estimate by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) suggested the death toll could be 41 percent higher if you factor in deaths outside hospitals.
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