COVID-19 and our lungs: Double the viral load and a glitch in the immune system

As the pandemic grinds on, scientists haven’t given up trying to pinpoint exactly how the coronavirus works. And a big part of the reason why is because, even with the advent of vaccines, the coronavirus continues to spread and lives are still being lost.

Early on, the experts saw that COVID-19 was a disease that attacks the respiratory system.

But why is the virus especially virulent? That’s why research is still focusing on the lungs.

A study led by researchers at NYU Grossman School of Medicine has given us perhaps the most detailed look so far at how this virus does its dirty work in our lungs…

Viral load is the killer, not secondary infections

According to lead author Dr. Imran Sulaiman, this investigation provides the most detailed survey yet of what’s really going on in the lower airway environment of coronavirus patients.

Previous studies have led scientists to suspect that the presence of the coronavirus leads to secondary infections, such as bacterial pneumonia, that increase the risk of mortality and are often the actual cause of death.

But after examining bacterial and fungal samples from the lungs of almost 600 men and women who were hospitalized with COVID-19, the NYU scientists found no evidence of this.

Instead, they discovered that people who died of COVID-19 had an average of ten times the amount of virus, or viral load, in their lower airways as did severely ill patients who survived their illness.

A missing adaptive protein

Another thing the NYU scientists discovered makes matters even worse.

Their study showed that people who die of COVID-19 have, on average, only half the production of a particular type of immune protein that targets the coronavirus, compared with those who survive COVID-19.

These proteins are part of the body’s adaptive immune system, which gives long-lasting immunity by “remembering” invading microbes and recognizing them if they return to do more damage.

“These results suggest that a problem with the adaptive immune system is preventing it from effectively combating the coronavirus,” says study senior author Dr. Leopoldo Segal.

“If we can identify the source of this issue, we may be able to find an effective treatment that works by bolstering the body’s own defenses.”

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Prepping the adaptive immune system

Until the researchers are able to take what they learned and integrate it into prevention and treatment protocols against COVID-19, there are two things, based on this study, to make a priority.

First of all — continue to mask up when out and about. There is debate about how effective masking is, but the majority of studies show it can reduce the spread. If you’re wearing a mask it may also cut down on the number of droplets you could breathe in if exposed, and that may help decrease the viral load that could end up in your lungs.

The next step would be to help your adaptive immune system function as best as it can.

Even though the researchers aren’t sure why the adaptive immune system works differently in those worst hit with COVID-19, shoring it up is always a good idea.

The best way to strengthen your adaptive immune system is to adopt some healthy living strategies, starting with your diet…

The online journal BMJ Nutrition Prevention & Health surveyed frontline workers and found those whose diets consisted more of vegetables and fish had a 73 percent lower risk of getting infected from COVID-19 despite caring for patients day in and day out.

Then see about trying these immune boosters:

  • Exercising regularly
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Quitting smoking
  • Drinking alcohol only in moderation
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Avoiding infection through regular hand washing
  • Reducing stress

Some vitamins, minerals and supplemental nutrition have been shown helpful:

Other substances have also been studied for the possibility of speeding recovery if infected with COVID-19: the antiviral, interferon and a combination of honey and Nigella sativa (black cumin seed)

Now, we’re not saying that these foods and minerals will protect you from getting COVID-19, or even ensure that you’re not hospitalized. But there’s a decent chance that your body will be better prepared to deal with any virus if it’s fortified because you’re practicing a healthier lifestyle that works to build up your immune system instead of wearing it down.

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Sources:

High virus count in the lungs drives COVID-19 deaths — Eureka Alert

Learning to help the adaptive immune system — Science Daily

Tips for a healthy immune system — Medical News Today

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Joyce Hollman

By Joyce Hollman

Joyce Hollman is a writer based in Kennebunk, Maine, specializing in the medical/healthcare and natural/alternative health space. Health challenges of her own led Joyce on a journey to discover ways to feel better through organic living, utilizing natural health strategies. Now, practicing yoga and meditation, and working towards living in a chemical-free home, her experiences make her the perfect conduit to help others live and feel better naturally.