SARS-CoV-2, in fact all viruses, cannot survive on their own and require a living cell to replicate and survive in. The cell can be from an animal or a human. Virus is just genetic material (RNA) in a lipid covering, in this case the lipid covering has spikes, hence the name Coronavirus. Once it has gained entry into the human body, it attaches to specific sites on the cell membrane and the genetic material enters the cell. It takes over the cells functioning to replicate and make multiples of the virus, causing disease. Our infected cells are eventually destroyed, raising alarm for our defence against infections. Our protective T-cells come to the rescue by detecting the virus and target it by producing enzymes/inflammatory markers which kill the virus and the infected cells.
In the process our body also produces protective antibodies which it remembers and uses against any future exposure to the virus. This takes a few days and vaccines work on this principle. Parts of the virus which cannot cause infection are used in vaccines to induce this protective memory against infections.
How to protect yourself from infection?
Follow social distancing to prevent spread by airborne transmission.
Wash your hands frequently to kill the virus. Soap can kill the virus on your skin in 20 seconds. This prevents the transfer of virus by fomites.
Use hand sanitisers. Using 60-70% alcohol-based sanitizers for 20 seconds also kill the virus
Wear a mask to protect yourself against airborne transmission or from asymptomatic carriers.
Stay at home. The less your exposure is, the better. This is the reason for Governments imposing lockdowns to control rapid spread of COVID-19.
What is our personal defence against COVID-19? How do we enhance it?
What is our Immune system?
Our immune system is our defence against viruses, bacteria or anything which can harm our body, including some foods, poor sleep, and stress. The immune system is not an organ like heart or liver, it involves various systems of the body – the Lymphatic system, blood, gut to name a few.
Our Gut is home to trillions of bacteria, viruses and other microorganisms which live in complete harmony. Gut bacteria, in addition to commensal bacteria in our nasal passages also destroy disease causing organisms, forming a major chunk of our defence. What keeps the bacteria happy and healthy? Our lifestyle choices – the food we eat, exercise, good restful sleep, and properly managed stress.
We need to be in the best of health for our body to fight infection from pathogens like bacteria, viruses and fungi. Studies show that about 25% of people infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus are asymptomatic and 80% of the remaining have only mild disease. The immune system has a large part to play determining these outcomes and we need our defense – our immune system – to be working optimally.
Poor nutrition, certain environmental factors and poor lifestyle choices weaken our immune system, which leads to increased infections, increased chronic diseases, increased cancers and when overactive it leads to autoimmune diseases.
How can we optimise our immune system?
Eat a plant-based diet, full of nutritious food. This helps to strengthen the innate immune system.
Maintain a healthy weight. Overweight people, especially with comorbidities have higher risk of complications. 90% of people with complications of COVID-19 have some underlying disease.
Exercise regularly. This is the easiest way to enhance immunity. Sit less and move more!
Manage stress. Stress hormones can weaken our immune defence. It can increase inflammation and alter gut bacteria.
Stop smoking. It weakens the lungs anyways.
Alcohol. Consume no or minimal alcohol.
Take care of your hygiene. Use best practices as advised by Scientists and Governments.
We will discuss each of these ways of enhancing the immune system in subsequent posts. So stay tuned!