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The Impact of COVID-19 on the Body: A Closer Look at the Immune System

By Dr. Patrick Evivie and Valerie Evivie

COVID-19 stands for coronavirus disease 2019. It is caused by a virus called SARS-COV-2, which first appeared in late 2019 and quickly spread around the world becoming the most fatal pandemic of our lifetime. The U.S. has become one of the epicenters of the pandemic accounting for nearly a quarter of the world’s deaths.

As the U.S. continues to grapple with how to effectively address this pandemic amidst differing opinions on the next steps, African Americans and other minorities continue to be disproportionately impacted. Many have attributed this increased risk to structural inequities, essential jobs and pre-existing medical conditions, such as diabetes, hypertension and obesity, which are prevalent in communities of color.

The virus can spread from person to person through respiratory droplets in the air or deposited on surfaces, and possibly by fecal-oral route. Once infected, you could remain asymptomatic for two to 14 days before any symptom of the disease presents. This is why it is important to self-quarantine for 14 days after a possible exposure to the virus.

Common symptoms include fever, chills, cough, trouble breathing, fatigue, muscle ache, loss of smell or taste; however,  40 to 45 percent of those infected will remain asymptomatic while they could potentially be spreading the virus to more vulnerable individuals with compromised immune systems, especially the elderly and people with chronic illness.

 

COVID-19 and The Immune System

The immune system is a complex network of cells and proteins that defends the body against infection; however, in some instances it goes rogue and wreaks more havoc on the body than the virus that triggered it.

The genetic material in COVID-19 is an RNA-virus. To survive, it needs to replicate itself by inserting its RNA into cells, hijacking the cellular machinery to produce new viruses within the body. The body then reacts by releasing proteins from the immune system in order to fight off the virus and compensate for any malfunction or damage to the body. Unfortunately, in some instances a Cytokine Storm Syndrome (Cytokine Storm) occurs when proteins released by the immune system become injurious to the body. This can result in severe consequences such as blood clots, strokes, respiratory disease, multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children (MIS-C) and death. As knowledge around COVID-19 expands, experts have identified this hyperimmune response as the significant cause of many COVID-19 related deaths and a reason for the susceptibility of otherwise healthy individuals.

Currently doctors treat severely ill patients with aggressive Cytokine Storm Syndrome with anti-inflammatory therapy to mitigate the body’s response and antiviral treatment to decrease the viral burden of COVID-19 on the body.

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How to Protect Yourself and Others 

Although there is currently no vaccine for COVID-19, the World Health Organization (WHO) has identified more than 100 potential vaccine candidates in preclinical development, however, nothing is completely guaranteed as the situation is evolving rapidly. As the race for a vaccine continues amidst the uncertainty of what is next, people are looking for ways to protect themselves and their loved ones. It is important to adhere to safety precautions such as:

 

  • Practice social distancing
  • Wear a cloth face mask
  • Wash your hands
  • Avoid traveling
  • Reduce stress
  • Exercise regularly
  • Maintain a healthy and balanced diet
  • Manage any chronic medical conditions as recommended by your physician

 

These precautions decrease the likelihood of exposure and transfer of COVID-19. They also encourage lifestyle choices such as regular exercising and managing chronic medical conditions, which strengthen the immune system. For more information on COVID-19, check the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website and your local health department.

 


Dr. Patrick Evivie is Medical Director, PrimeCare Medical Center.

Valerie E. Evivie works is a Network Relations Consultant at Mercy Care.