Singer-songwriter John Prine and his wife, Fiona, both became infected with the novel coronavirus while on a recent tour in Europe. Fiona has recovered, but Prine is still critically ill. The reason may be that he’s had lung cancer surgery, which comprised his lungs and immune system, increasing his risk of becoming more severely ill than his wife.
Their example raises the question of why some people survive the virus with only mild symptoms, if any, while others, like Prine, land in critical care. It’s a pressing question and one that experts struggle to answer since so little is known about the virus at the present time.
“Why are some people completely asymptomatic, some have mild disease, others have severe disease but recover — and others have fatal disease? We are still trying to figure this out,” said Dr. Brian Schwartz, vice chief for clinical affairs at the University of California San Francisco’s Division of Infectious Diseases, according to The Mercury News.
“It’s a small subset of people that will go on to develop serous disease. Most will not,” he said. “We want to learn how to prevent people from developing serious disease—and if they do, figure out how to treat it the right way.”
It’s been widely publicized that older people are at increased risk of dying, but emerging data reveals that risk factors such as diabetes, hypertension, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, coronary artery disease, chronic renal disease, and smoking also contribute to a higher death rate among patients with COVID-19.
Since COVID-19 is an inflammatory disease, those suffering from cardiovascular disease which is also an inflammatory condition, may experience what experts call a “cytokine storm” that can lead to heart failure. As inflammation increases, chemicals called cytokines are released in the body that place tremendous stress on the heart, Dr. Michelle A. Albert president of the Bay Area American Heart Association tells The Mercury News.
Cancer treatments can also weaken the immune system, making the patient more vulnerable. Those with underlying lung conditions, like Prine, and people with cystic fibrosis, asthma, and emphysema are at greater risk since the airways of the lungs are already impaired.
Doctors are discovering at nine to 10 days into the illness, there appears to be a “fork in the road.” In most people, according to The Mercury News, the immune system then kicks in, launching a calibrate and effective response to help patients recover. In others, the immune system goes into overdrive and immune cells flood the lungs causing acute respiratory distress. These people may go on to develop sepsis, and then potentially acute kidney and heart damage. Experts say that as we age, our immune system becomes less efficient, which may be one reason older folks have a higher death rate.
According to MSN, here are ways you can help regulate your immune system to produce a more appropriate response to the virus.
*Consume immune boosting vitamins. Vitamin C is well known for its role in supporting a healthy immune system. Good food sources include oranges, grapefruits, strawberries, bell peppers, spinach and kale.
*Take anti-viral supplements. Maitake mushrooms are rich in antioxidants, beta-glucans, vitamins B and C and other immune-regulating nutrients. The National Cancer Institute confirmed that mushrooms have a positive effect on immunity.
*Reduce stress. When you are stressed, your immune system’s ability to fight off infections is reduced. Learn relaxation techniques and make sure you are getting sufficient sleep.
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