Previous Covid infection may not offer long-term protection, study finds | Coronavirus

  • June 17, 2021

Previous infection with coronavirus does not necessarily protect against Covid in the longer term, especially when caused by new variants of concern, a study on healthcare workers suggests.

Researchers at Oxford University found marked differences in the immune responses of medical staff who contracted Covid, with some appearing far better equipped than others to combat the disease six months later.

Scientists on the study, conducted with the UK Coronavirus Immunology Consortium, said the findings reinforced the importance of everyone getting vaccinated regardless of whether they had been infected with the virus earlier in the pandemic.

“If you look at the trajectory of the immune response after infection, mostly it is still detectable six months later, but it’s highly variable between people,” said Eleanor Barnes, a professor of hepatology and experimental medicine at Oxford and a senior author on the study.

“That is quite different to vaccination. If you vaccinate you get a really robust response, but with natural infection there’s much more diversity in responses.”

The researchers analysed blood samples from 78 healthcare workers who had Covid, with or without symptoms, between April and June last year. The blood was checked monthly for up to six months post-infection for a range of immune responses. These included different types of antibody that target the virus, B cells that make antibodies and retain a memory of the disease, and T cells, which reduce the severity of disease by killing off infected cells.

Writing in a preprint, which has yet to be peer-reviewed, the authors describe how they used a machine learning system called Simon, for Sequential Iterative Modeling Over Night, to see whether a person’s early immune response and the severity of their infection could predict their longer-term immunity. Dr Adriana Tomic, the first author on the study, said a signature in the antibody and T-cell response at one month predicted how robust the antibody response would be at six months.

The majority of people who produced a weak immune response at one month had no detectable antibodies that could neutralise the Alpha variant, first seen in Kent, at six months. None mounted neutralising antibodies against the Beta variant first spotted in South Africa. The researchers have yet to analyse data for the Delta variant now dominant in the UK.

While most of the healthcare workers who developed symptomatic disease had a measurable immune response six months later, more than a quarter did not. More than 90% of those who had asymptomatic infections had no measurable immune response six months later, the researchers found. The work is part of the protective immunity from T cells to Covid-19 in health workers (Pitch) study, funded by the Department of Health.

“In our view, previous infection does not necessarily protect you long-term from Sars-Cov-2, particularly variants of concern,” said Barnes. “You shouldn’t depend on it to protect you from subsequent disease, you should be vaccinated.”

The wide variability in immunity triggered by natural infection in part reflects the radically different exposures people can have to the virus while going about their lives. Immunity from vaccination is more reliable because people are given a standard dose in a standard way.

Danny Altmann, a professor of immunology at Imperial College London, who was not involved in the study, said the findings cautioned against simple assumptions around how immunity waned with time. “People show rather diverse trajectories after infection, but immunity often seems to hold up well at six months,” he said. “Most of all, studies such as this remind us that policy decisions on ‘boosting’ need to be evidence based in the context of a strong programme of immune monitoring.”

Covid 19: Foods you should eat if you have coronavirus infection

Covid 19: Foods you should eat if you have coronavirus infection

  • June 16, 2021

According to Dr Vishnuraj Prakash, Head of Ayurveda, Vana Retreat, Dehradun. Our immunity fights or helps our physiological system to sustain from any bacterial or viral invasion. What you have to understand is that a balanced immune response is vital to ward off these infections and thus sustains our health.

Majority of viral infections turn serious either due to lack of immune response or else due to hyper immune response. The following practices and food choices help in modulating a balanced immune response and may facilitate a faster recovery from Covid 19 infection.

Simple tips

Hydrate yourselves – Drink at least 3 to 4 litres of water infused with a few leaves of tulsi and thin slices of ginger. Try to avoid sleeping in supine position as it can increase chances of chest congestion. Try to sleep in either a prone or lateral position.

Chew 3 to 5 raisins 3 to 4 times a day which can improve digestion and help in improving or bringing back your taste.

Always prefer to have light and easily digestible meals like a khichdi fortified with cinnamon and turmeric powder which can be assimilated quickly.

Taking a piece of fruit, especially a pomegranate or orange or an apple will be energising. Include asparagus, drumsticks, garlic, beetroot, celery, zucchini, cucumber, radish, mung bean in your diet. Always prefer to have warm and cooked meals.

Avoid cold foods, excessive sweet, spicy, sour, and salty foods during an active infection. Try moderation of all tastes in a meal.

Study: Immunity to SARS-CoV-2 persists 9 months post-symptoms with an altered T cell phenotype compared to influenza A virus-specific memory. Image Credit: CI Photos / Shutterstock

Immune memory responses differ between SARS-CoV-2 and influenza A

  • June 15, 2021

Researchers in Canada have shown that the long-lasting immunity that develops following infection with severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is characterized by different T cell responses than those observed for influenza A virus-specific immune memory.

The SARS-CoV-2 virus is the agent responsible for the ongoing coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic that has caused more than 176 million infections and more than 3.8 million deaths since the outbreak first began in late December 2019.

It is still unclear whether the T cell, B cell, and antibody responses triggered by an infection with SARS-CoV-2 resemble those triggered by a typical respiratory virus.

All successful viruses must suppress the host’s innate immune response to some extent, but how the unique features of the early response to SARS-CoV-2 impact long-term immunity to SARS-CoV-2 compared with other respiratory viruses remains unknown, says the team from Sinai Health System in Toronto and the University of Toronto in Oregon.

Now, Tania Watts and colleagues have shown that among 24 recovered individuals, SARS-CoV-2-specific T cell responses were distinct from those typically observed for influenza A virus (IAV).

The T cell responses to SARS-CoV-2 exhibited a lower CD8+: CD4+ T cell ratio and a higher proportion of interleukin 2- (IL-2) and IL-6-producing cells, as well as an altered cytotoxic profile, compared with IAV-specific memory responses.

These T cell responses and altered phenotype lasted for about nine months following symptom onset.

“These data suggest that the memory T-cell phenotype after a single infection with SARS-CoV-2 persists over time, with an altered cytokine and cytotoxic profile compared to long term memory to IAV within the same subjects,” writes the team.

A pre-print version of the research paper is available on the medRxiv* server, while the article undergoes peer review.

Study: Immunity to SARS-CoV-2 persists 9 months post-symptoms with an altered T cell phenotype compared to influenza A virus-specific memory. Image Credit: CI Photos / Shutterstock

A large proportion of the global population needs to acquire immunity to SARS-CoV-2

The SARS-CoV-2 virus continues to circulate in many regions of the world and controlling the COVID-19 pandemic will require immunity among a large proportion of the global population.

Although vaccine-induced immunity is a key component in acquiring SARS-CoV-2 immunity, a substantial number of people have recovered from COVID-19. It is crucial to understand how these individuals maintain and develop immunity to the virus.

While all successful viruses suppress the host’s innate immune response to some degree, SARS-CoV-2 is particularly adept at evading type I and III interferon (IFN) responses, and people with defects in IFN signaling are overrepresented among severe COVID-19 cases.

“Whether these unique features of the early response to SARS-CoV-2 impact long-term immunity to SARS-CoV-2 compared to other respiratory viruses remains unknown,” writes Watts and colleagues.

What did the study involve?

The researchers assessed the persistence and phenotype of T cell and antibody responses to SARS-CoV-2 among 24 recovered individuals at a median of 45 days and 145 days post-symptom onset. The majority (75%) of participants had recovered from mild disease that did not require hospitalization.

Antibody responses to SARS-CoV-2 were detected in 95% of participants.

A strong correlation was observed between plasma and salivary levels of immunoglobulin G (IgG) directed at the viral spike protein and its receptor-binding domain (RBD). The spike RBD mediates the initial stage of the infection process by binding to the host cell receptor angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2).

A correlation was also observed between circulating T follicular helper cells and the SARS-CoV-2-specific IgG response.

All individuals had CD4+ T cell responses to SARS-CoV-2 that decayed with a half-life of five to six months for spike-specific IL-2-producing cells.

T cell memory phenotype differed between SARS-CoV-2 and IAV

The phenotype of the SARS-CoV-2-specific T cells differed from that of T cell memory responses to IAV within the same individuals.

The response to SARS-CoV-2 was characterized by a lower ratio of CD8+: CD4+ T cell and a lower ratio of IFN-g-: IL-2-producing cells, compared with IAV-specific memory responses.

The analysis also revealed a decreased IFN-g: IL-6 ratio and an altered profile of cytotoxic molecules compared with IAV-specific responses.

These T cell responses and altered phenotype persisted for about nine months following symptom onset.

The responses to IAV were about two to three times more stable than the responses to SARS-CoV-2.

The researchers say that since boosting is known to increase the duration of T cell immunity, this finding likely reflects the IAV-specific memory being boosted over a lifetime of exposure or vaccination.

“The response to SARS-CoV-2 represents a primary infection; whether this will change upon boosting remains to be determined,” they add.

What did the authors conclude?

The researchers say the findings demonstrate that most individuals in a cohort of recovered, mainly mild cases have detectable T and antibody responses to SARS-CoV-2 for around nine months post-infection.

“Although a limitation of our study is that the IAV-specific responses measured here represent a lifetime of exposure to IAV, whereas SARS-CoV-2-specific responses represent the response to a new infection… the data suggest that SARS-CoV-2 specific T cell responses are distinct from the typical response to the respiratory pathogen IAV,” concludes the team.

*Important Notice

medRxiv publishes preliminary scientific reports that are not peer-reviewed and, therefore, should not be regarded as conclusive, guide clinical practice/health-related behavior, or treated as established information.

After COVID-19, Kids Can Develop MIS-C: Here Are the Signs

After COVID-19, Kids Can Develop MIS-C: Here Are the Signs

  • June 15, 2021

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Young people who contract the coronavirus can also develop multisystem inflammation syndrome in children (MIS-C). Marko Geber/Getty Images
  • Among children who get COVID-19, a small proportion develop multisystem inflammation syndrome (MIS-C).
  • This serious complication can appear weeks after the initial infection.
  • MIS-C causes widespread inflammation that can affect multiple tissues and organs.

While COVID-19 tends to be less severe in children than in adults, some kids do become seriously ill with the disease or related complications.

Among young people who contract the coronavirus, a small proportion develop multisystem inflammation syndrome in children (MIS-C). This serious complication can appear weeks after the initial infection.

“MIS-C is a postinfectious inflammatory condition, where your body’s immune system kind of goes into overdrive,” said Dr. Christina Johns, MEd, FAAP, a pediatric emergency physician and the senior medical adviser for PM Pediatrics in Lake Success, New York.

“The ripple effect of that means that there can be lots of inflammatory processes going on in many different organs,” she said.

In a study published last week in JAMA Network Open, researchers looked at 1 million cases of people under age 21 who contracted the coronavirus and later developed MIS-C.

“While it is rare complication — and the numbers from this new study certainly support that — it is not one without consequence. It is not a small deal to get MIS-C,” Johns said.

The new study was conducted by researchers from Boston Children’s Hospital and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The researchers analyzed MIS-C surveillance data from seven jurisdictions: Connecticut, Georgia, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Jersey, New York (excluding New York City), and Pennsylvania.

They found that among people under age 20 in those jurisdictions, 248 cases of MIS-C were reported from April to June 2020.

Among children who developed COVID-19, Black, Latino or Hispanic, and Asian or Pacific Islander children were more likely than white children to develop MIS-C.

“We previously knew that MIS-C cases seem to be higher in Black Americans or Latino Americans, but we also knew that those groups have a higher risk of COVID,” said Dr. Lorry Rubin, director of pediatric infectious diseases at Cohen Children’s Medical Center of Northwell Health in New Hyde Park, New York.

“Now this study shows that certain racial groups are at higher risk, independent of their risk for getting COVID,” he said.

MIS-C causes widespread inflammation that can affect multiple tissues and organs.

“It triggers inflammation that affects a lot of the systems in the body: the heart, the gastrointestinal tract, the skin, the eye, and so forth,” Rubin said.

One of the most common symptoms is a fever that lasts for at least 3 to 4 days.

Other potential symptoms include:

  • skin rash
  • bloodshot eyes
  • red or swollen lips
  • abdominal pain
  • diarrhea
  • vomiting

The specific symptoms can vary from one child to another.

Several cases of the syndrome have also been reported in adults (MIS-A).

If you think your child might have MIS-C, the CDC advises you to contact their doctor, nurse, or clinic right away.

“What really concerns me about MIS-C is just how quickly children can go from seemingly completely OK, to not feeling well, to being highly critically ill,” Johns told Healthline.

“If parents have some significant concerns that something just isn’t quite right, trust that instinct,” she said.

Healthcare professionals treat MIS-C with supportive care, such as:

  • intravenous fluids
  • medications to reduce inflammation
  • treatments to improve heart function and breathing

“Inflammation involving the heart is perhaps the most serious feature, and many children come to medical attention with the severe impairment of heart function known as cardiogenic shock,” said Michael Grosso, MD, medical director and chair of pediatrics at Northwell Health’s Huntington Hospital in Long Island, New York.

“In such cases, children will require admission to a pediatric intensive care unit and life support,” he continued.

MIS-C is only one of several complications that children and adolescents can potentially develop from COVID-19.

“I want to sort of debunk the argument that if you’re in a pediatric age group, COVID’s no big deal,” Rubin said. “It is still a source of a lot of infection, morbidity, and even death in the pediatric age group.”

The only known way to prevent MIS-C and other COVID-19-related complications is to avoid contracting the coronavirus.

“That is best done by doing all the things we did throughout the pandemic: social distancing, hand hygiene, and masks,” Grosso said.

“Most important is getting immunized, at least for pediatric patients greater than 12 years of age,” he said.

The CDC currently recommends that everyone ages 12 and up get vaccinated against COVID-19.

Scientists are still studying COVID-19 vaccines in younger children. As more findings from those studies come out, Grosso expects that a vaccine will be granted emergency use authorization for younger kids “in the near future.”

COVID-19 Recovery Diet: Foods to Eat if You Have Tested Positive For Coronavirus

COVID-19 Recovery Diet- Foods to Eat if You Have Tested Positive For Coronavirus

  • June 14, 2021

When ill, one’s body undergoes a taxing time, as it is depleted of nutrition and energy in its battle against the infection. Not only is immunity compromised but overall health deteriorates as the body tries to overcome the disease and recuperate. The body’s response in the case where one has tested positive for the coronavirus is similar, with the infection affecting different people with different levels of severity. Also Read – Milkha Singh’s Wife, Nirmal Kaur, Dies Due To Covid-19 Complications

As the second wave of COVID-19 infections continues to sweep through the country, it has impacted thousands of people to date. With symptoms ranging from mild flu-like symptoms to severe cases affecting the lungs, respiratory system, heart, and even the brain, the short- to long-term impact of the virus on one’s body are pronounced. From debilitating weakness to the loss of smell and taste, the infection often leads to the loss of overall appetite. All of this, combined with multiple lockdowns imposed by the government to curb the spread of the infection and suggestions of home quarantine in case of mild to moderate COVID positive cases for otherwise healthy individuals might result in the alteration of normal food-related practices. With access to markets is limited, the accessibility to fresh produce too might be impacted leading to the potential of consuming more highly processed foods that are high in sugar, fats and salt. Also Read – Tamil Nadu Lockdown Eased, Unlock Process in 27 Districts From Monday | Check Details

At times like this, when one’s immune system needs to be stronger than ever, good nutrition is a must. Not only one must continue to be mindful of what they consume but planning a healthy and wholesome diet that meets the daily nutrition requirements of the body is absolutely essential. A balanced diet along with basic exercises to aid deep breathing and relaxation of both, body and mind, goes a long way in aiding the body’s fight against the COVID-19 infection and getting you back up on your feet. Also Read – Sputnik V Rollout in Delhi’s Indraprastha Apollo Hospital by Next Week

Shona Prabhu, Sports Nutritionist and founder of NutrifyMyDiet & Supporter of Right To Protein shares key factors to keep in mind while planning and managing your diet during COVID-19 infection which will boost your overall recovery process.

Known as the building blocks of the body, proteins help build muscles and tissue, repair cells and boost immunity. Proteins are essential to overcome the wear and tear of your body’s cells, which is especially accelerated when COVID positive, and it is critical to include adequate sources of protein in one’s daily diet during the recovery and post-recovery phase. In addition, proteins replenish energy, making them the perfect nutrients to overcome weakness, while improving gut health and overall digestion. Therefore, meeting one’s daily protein requirement is of the essence when affected by COVID-19. A daily protein intake of 1 g per kg body weight throughout the day on a regular basis can play a strong role in recovery.

Be it warm lentil or chicken soup to soothe a sore throat; milk and milk products such as cheese, paneer, and yogurt to whip up healthy salads and comfort curries; soybean products such as tofu and soy chunks to recreate flavoursome Asian stir-fries to satiate the tastebuds; baked fish casseroles such as salmon and mashed potatoes on the side for a balanced helping of proteins. Soybeans are also rich in vitamin C, folate as well as omega-3 fatty acids that help build and maintain a healthy body. You can make keema with soy granules or bake with a healthy twist of soy flour and soy milk, the options, are plenty.

While most of us count our daily intake of calories during other times, for those suffering or recovering from COVID-19, the absence of calories in one’s diet could actually cause more harm than good when your body is in dire need of energy. Important for the smooth functioning of the heart and lungs, the inclusion of calorie-dense foods in your diet is critical. Ensure that the calories being consumed are healthy – be it whole grains such as wheat, maize and rice, potatoes, cereals, bread, and pasta – add a daily dose of calories to your meals to recover faster. Including nuts and dry fruits such as almonds, walnuts, dates and more as mid-meal snacks when one’s appetite is waning can be beneficial. Also, a lot of these foods contain proteins in varying amounts; therefore they contribute to one’s overall protein requirements.

Along with a protein-rich diet, it is imperative to intake an adequate amount of Vitamin C during the course of recovery. It is key to the recovery process as it contains anti-oxidants and boosts overall immunity. With COVID-19 known to affect one’s respiratory system adversely, a daily shot of Vitamins C is crucial. Fresh fruits such as oranges, muskmelon, mango, pineapple, or even guavas, avocados, kiwis and grapefruit, which are also rich in protein are ideal sources of Vitamin C. Toss them into a healthy smoothie made of regular milk, soy or almond milk or create a rainbow-hued fruit salad – make sure you get your double dose of Vitamin C and protein.

With an adequate intake of protein to keep our immunity in order during COVID, it is equally important to consume a sufficient amount of fiber, and soy is one of those ingredients that can take care of both protein and fiber at the same time. Recently, The Food Safety and Standards Authority of India detailed the importance of adding soy foods to our diet. Soy foods are made from soybeans, a wholesome source of high-quality protein, making them a perfect option for those who follow a strict vegetarian diet.

In addition to all of the above, ensure that you remain hydrated throughout the day. Drink plenty of water as it contains zero calories and has proteins and Vitamin C – it is important that your body receives enough and more hydration. To further maintain a healthy diet, limit your sugar and salt intake and replace saturated fats such as butter and ghee with healthier and unsaturated fats such as olive, soy, or sunflower oil while cooking as recommended by the Government of India.

Exercise routinely, be it basic breathing exercises or meditation; follow all recommended medications; and eat healthy home-cooked meals to not only try to beat the COVID-19 infection but bounce back on your feet faster, not too worse from the wear. Stay safe, take all necessary precautions and be #HealthyAtHome!

Study: Infectious disease mRNA vaccines and a review on epitope prediction for vaccine design. Image Credit: MattLphotography / Shutterstock

The potential of mRNA vaccines for a wide range of diseases

  • June 8, 2021

Vaccination is an important strategy to prevent the transmission of various infectious diseases such as rubella, smallpox, measles, mumps, and recently, coronavirus 2019 disease (COVID-19).

Vaccines typically contain either dead or weakened virus strains, or a small part of that virus, such as a protein or nucleic acid. When you get a vaccine, your immune system identifies it as foreign. In response, it creates memory cells and antibodies that guard against future infection.

Researchers have explained that messenger RNA (mRNA) vaccines can encode the preferred antigens from an mRNA sequence.  When the mRNA is inoculated, it offers specific information to the cells such that they can produce specific proteins in the cytoplasm. These proteins trigger immune responses associated with antigen-presenting cells (APCs) or antibodies/immunoglobulin. These immune cells protect the body against diseases.

A new review article published in the journal Briefings in Functional Genomics focuses on the general characteristic features and mechanisms of mRNA vaccines. Further, this review has summarized the current progress of mRNA vaccines that have been developed for wide-ranging diseases, including COVID-19 disease.

Study: Infectious disease mRNA vaccines and a review on epitope prediction for vaccine design. Image Credit: MattLphotography / Shutterstock

The main reasons the mRNA vaccine has been considered a strong vaccine candidate to prevent COVID-19 disease are its efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and rapid development speed.

Further, in comparison to other types of vaccines, mRNA vaccines have gained popularity owing to their characteristic features, which are most favorable for targeting infectious diseases with genetic instability.

Also, the main advantages of using mRNA as a source of antigen are its ability to induce MHC-I presentation and stimulating cytotoxic T-lymphocyte responses.

These characteristic features provide huge versatility in the types and number of antigenic determinants. Two of the main types of mRNA that are evaluated as vaccine candidates are (a) non-replicating mRNA and (b) virally derived self-amplifying mRNA.

One of the persisting issues in the development of mRNA vaccines is thermostability. Two recently developed mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccines require a steady temperature of -70°C during their storage and transportation. Such a feature limits their availability in rural areas and low-income countries. However, recently researchers have developed thermostable mRNA vaccines with a freeze-dry protocol. Scientists believe more research on the optimization of vaccine formulation may help improve the thermostability of mRNA vaccines.

Scientists have stated that epitopes are an important feature that is often ignored for enhancing the effectiveness of mRNA vaccines. These antigenic determinants are recognized by the immune system and determine the type of immune response to be triggered. Epitopes are divided into T-cell and B-cell epitopes. The T-cell epitopes are present on the surface of an APC and are attached to major histocompatibility. The B-cell epitopes are bound by immunoglobulin or antibodies. For peptide-based vaccines, the epitope-based vaccine design has been used. Two examples of epitope-based vaccines for SARS-CoV-2 are UB-612 and NVX-CoV2373.

Scientists have developed several epitope prediction models, which can be categorized into sequence-based and structure-based methods. Although the sequence-based methods have become obsolete, their concept is still being used in motif search. The neural network offers a suitable approach to study the relationships and describing non-linear data.

For epitope prediction, a support vector machine is widely used and has been demonstrated in models such as COBEPRO (linear B-cell epitope prediction model) and Pcleavage (cleavage sites prediction model). For structural models, standard computational models such as docking of peptides, knowledge-based threading algorithms, etc., are used. These epitope predictions help researchers to identify epitopes that can provide immunogenicity and cross-reactivity for a target pathogen. For many viruses, epitopes can be found in online databases, such as the Immune Epitope Database (IEDB).

Two of the mRNA-based COVID-19 vaccines have used similar immunogen design and delivery systems. They elicit immune responses which are comparable to natural viral infection. Even though both of these vaccines have shown promising efficacy in clinical trials, optimization related to epitopes may help develop more stable and effective vaccines. For example, prefusion conformation needs more factors to be maintained after inoculation, as the macromolecules could get modified by environmental parameters. Further, incorporating another immunogen (e.g., N protein) could provide an additional target for immune response. This could boost vaccine efficiency and lower the risk of mutation escape.

Even though the use of S protein in the vaccine could mimic a natural viral infection, the neutralizing antibodies and T-cells can only get attached to specific peptides. Therefore, encoding specific epitopes could enhance the stability of the mRNA vaccine. Also, in the case of extreme mutation in SARS-CoV-2’s S protein, the virus could escape immunity elicited by the currently available vaccines. It could be easier to adapt to new mutations by re-adjusting the epitopes instead of redesigning the vaccine. For vaccine designing, the use of computational models is highly advantageous because of their flexibility.

mRNA vaccines had been previously applied for preventing a range of infectious as well as non-infectious diseases such as influenza and cancer. Based on human epitope prediction models, this article illustrates how mRNA vaccine design can be improved by recent advances in bioinformatics.

Are we on the brink of a third wave of COVID? | Coronavirus pandemic

Are we on the brink of a third wave of COVID? | Coronavirus pandemic

  • June 8, 2021

Here in the UK, we are waiting patiently for the government to lift all COVID-19 restrictions on June 21, as it has promised to do. UK businesses are urging the government to stick to its promise.

The thought of ongoing restrictions is difficult for all of us – every doctor knows the harms that lockdowns bring to their patients. People are clearly feeling increasingly angry about the prospect of a lingering lockdown; there have been large protests against lockdowns in many countries, with fringe groups continuing to claim the virus itself does not exist. When healthcare professionals see these protests and false claims, though, it rubs salt into very recent wounds. We have been working tirelessly and risking our own lives caring for our patients with the virus. Each protest feels like a slap in the face for all the work we have done so far.

So, despite the fact that the numbers of hospitalisations from COVID are at a low in the UK and our vaccine programme has been a runaway success, scientists and doctors would prefer that the government wait another month to lift restrictions until more people have received both doses of the vaccine, which has been shown to offer a good level of protection against the delta variant.

The cause for their concern is a rise in the number of new cases of the B1.617.2 – or the variant first identified in India, now being called the “delta variant”, which can increase the risk of hospitalisation by 2.7 times, according to Public Health England. The UK government has already come under fire for not acting quickly enough to restrict flights from India and it is dithering about what to do next.

As a doctor, it is painful to watch. The one thing we should have learned since this pandemic began is that any delay in responding to this virus results in more deaths and longer and harder lockdowns.

Over-reacting, earlier, saves time and lives in the long term; we only need to look at New Zealand for the evidence. Under-reacting, and taking too long to make a decision, risks another serious outbreak of the virus.

Evidence that we are on the verge of a third wave, not just in the UK but globally, is mounting. Since March, large parts of Europe have been racing to vaccinate their populations against rising numbers of infections, mainly thought to be due to the variant first discovered in the UK, B1.117, now known as the “alpha variant”.

Hampered by delays to the delivery of vaccines, Germany and Italy have seen cases surge and lockdown rules extended. These countries are now worried about rising numbers of cases of the delta variant in the UK, with Germany banning all but essential travel to and from the UK as of May 23 as it brands the UK an “area of variant concern”.

This comes after 189 people were quarantined in an apartment block in the German town of Velbert on May 18 after one of its residents tested positive for the delta variant. People were unable to leave the building until all residents had been tested and contact tracing was complete.

Aside from Germany and the UK, the delta strain has been detected in other European nations including Denmark, Ireland, Italy, Belgium, Switzerland, France, the Netherlands and Spain – albeit at low levels.

Elsewhere, Nepal continues to struggle against a rising wave of infections, with hospitals finding it difficult to meet the demand from increasing numbers of patients. Nepal’s prime minister, KP Sharma Oli, has made an urgent plea for vaccines to his UK counterpart Boris Johnson. Speaking to the BBC, he said the UK should acknowledge the sacrifices of Nepal’s Gurkha soldiers who served the UK and make Nepal a priority for UK COVID aid.

There have also been reports of a new variant being discovered in Nepal, although the World Health Organisation (WHO) tweeted: “WHO is not aware of any new variant of SARS-CoV-2 being detected in Nepal.” If there is a new variant, it is likely to be a mutated version of the delta variant.

Scientists are still studying this potential variant, but it is thought to harbour the K417N mutation which could make it more evasive to the immune response triggered by the vaccines. If that is the case, it could be potentially problematic as it has been identified in Vietnam, Japan, the UK and Portugal as well as other countries.

South Africa is already taking action to prevent a third wave. President Cyril Ramaphosa has imposed tighter restrictions across four of the country’s nine provinces. With almost 1.65 million cases and 56,363 fatalities, South Africa is officially the worst-affected country on the continent.

Ramaphosa has repeatedly criticised richer countries for hoarding vaccines by buying them up too quickly, leaving the African continent with less than 2 percent of its population vaccinated so far. South Africa is also calling for an end to patent rights on the coronavirus vaccines so it can manufacture its own supplies and administer them.

It is a worrying time for many people involved in the fight to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, particularly in preventing the spread of new variants and racing to get as many people fully vaccinated as possible.

But while countries continue to look inwards and protect only their own populations, this virus is likely to find fertile breeding grounds in countries that are unable to vaccinate their people at the same rates, resulting in further variants arising. We need to break the chain between infections and hospital admissions, and the only way to do this is to vaccinate the world’s population. If people are protected against serious disease by vaccines then we can suppress and then live alongside the virus with regular booster shots for future variants. If countries continue to be nationalistic about vaccines, a third wave is looking more and more likely.

We live in a world where people can move relatively easily from continent to continent, so while vaccinating your own country might buy time, we need to vaccinate globally to solve this pandemic.

[Illustration by Jawahir Al-Naimi/Al Jazeera]

Progress report: Did COVID originate in a Wuhan lab?

The theory – until now widely dismissed as a conspiracy theory – that the coronavirus was man-made in a laboratory in Wuhan has recently started to circulate again.

The Wall Street Journal reported on May 23 that three researchers in China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology became sick enough to warrant hospital treatment in November 2019, before the outbreak in Wuhan officially began. The Wuhan Institute leads studies into coronaviruses as well as other pathogens, and the researchers allegedly showed symptoms that may have been consistent with COVID-19. The question as to whether the symptoms were COVID remains unanswered.

Four days after this report appeared, however, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) in the US released a press statement saying: “The US Intelligence Community does not know exactly where, when, or how the COVID-19 virus was transmitted initially but has coalesced around two likely scenarios: either it emerged naturally from human contact with infected animals or it was a laboratory accident.”

The ONDI said it is divided over which one of these cases is more likely, and it will continue to examine all available evidence. President Joe Biden ordered his intelligence committees to investigate the possibility of a laboratory leak, something China has firmly rejected.

Does it matter where the virus sprang from? Well, yes, it does. It is vital that we understand the origins of this virus so we can prevent similar pandemics from occurring in the future.

An investigation team sent in January this year by the WHO to examine the possible causes of the outbreak of the coronavirus in Wuhan concluded it was “extremely unlikely” the virus had escaped from a nearby laboratory. The US has asked the WHO for more data and transparency as it moves into Phase Two of its COVID origins study.

The widely accepted theory about the origins of the coronavirus is that it was zoonotic, meaning it jumped from animals to humans; the most likely animal coming into contact with a human being either a bat or a pangolin. The theory that it was man-made in a laboratory in China has always been dismissed by many scientists as a conspiracy theory but, since President Biden’s announcement, it has now gathered mainstream interest. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told a Canadian press conference on May 27 that he supports Biden’s efforts to investigate the origins of the coronavirus.

In a paper that has not yet been peer-reviewed but is due to be published in the scientific journal, Quarterly Review of Biophysics Discovery, two scientists have concluded that “SARS-Coronavirus-2 has no credible natural ancestor” and that it is “beyond reasonable doubt” that the virus was created through “laboratory manipulation”.

Two of the paper’s authors, British Professor Angus Dalgleish and Norwegian scientist Dr Birger Sørensen, told the Daily Mail in the UK that the virus has “unique fingerprints” that could only have been manipulated in a laboratory and could not have occurred naturally.

They say they believe that, in a bid to study viral effects in humans, Chinese scientists modified naturally occurring coronaviruses and made them more infectious by inserting chains of amino acids into the spike protein of the virus. This process of altering a virus’s makeup so it becomes more transmissible and studying its effects on human cells in a lab is known as Gain of Function – and is banned in many countries.

The two authors also claimed that after the pandemic began, Chinese scientists took samples of the COVID-19 virus and “retro-engineered” it, making it appear as if it had evolved naturally. This may sound fantastical, but it is, in fact, entirely possible to do.

China has always denied that the virus was man-made.

Whatever the origins, it is clear we need further investigation, Chinese cooperation and full transparency so the international scientific community can fully scrutinise the data in an effort to reduce the risk of further pandemics originating in the same way.

In the doctor’s surgery: Patients returning to my clinic

It has been a busy week at the surgery. Patients are facing long delays to routine surgical procedures such as hip or knee replacements, as well as other more minor hospital treatments for their ailments and are returning to their family doctor to help manage symptoms while they wait. During the pandemic, I had many vulnerable groups of patients who were shielding due to underlying health conditions and an increased risk of them becoming seriously ill should they contract COVID-19. This meant they could not visit my surgery and I could not go to them because of the risk of me unwittingly taking the virus into their homes. Most of our consultations were, therefore, conducted remotely over the phone or through video calls.

But these people have now had both doses of their vaccine and no longer have to shield. This week, I saw one such patient at the surgery, an elderly man who I have been looking after for many years.

I hadn’t realised how much I had missed seeing my patients face to face – it was a real pleasure to have him back in my consulting room. As well as talking about his illnesses, we talked about a shared passion of ours; gardening.

He told me his tomatoes were coming along nicely and that his onions were doing well; I told him about the hedgehogs that have been frequenting my garden.

It might sound like an odd conversation for a doctor and patient to have, but these moments are what make the relationship between a family doctor and their patients special. My elderly patient had been alone for the best part of a year and human contact had been sorely missed. And, if I am being honest, I missed this part of my job too. The COVID pandemic has made these little conversations harder to have as we have been so focused on managing acutely unwell patients, but as things open back up, I am looking forward to catching up with my patients on all the small things too!

And now, some good news: Cancer patients respond well to vaccines

A study published this week shows that cancer patients are having a good immune response to the COVID-19 vaccines. People living with cancer have had a tough pandemic. As well as enduring delays to treatments, they have had to isolate or even shield due to being at increased risk of severe illness if they catch the virus. Because these people are on treatments that can dampen their immune systems – putting them at risk of serious illness from even minor infections – having an effective vaccine response may help alleviate their fears about going to hospital and feeling safe.

The Israeli study compared blood tests of patients undergoing cancer treatment for solid tumours with healthy adults 12 days after they had their second dose of the Pfizer vaccine. The study showed that 90 percent of the cancer patients had adequate coronavirus antibodies, compared with 100 percent of the control group. This good news was caveated with findings showing the overall concentration of antibodies to coronavirus was lower in those receiving treatment for cancer compared with those without cancer. This is most likely due to the chemotherapy or immunotherapy they were receiving as part of their cancer treatment which can affect their immune response.

The duration for which the antibodies last in people receiving treatment for cancer remains undetermined, but there may be a call in the future for booster vaccines to ensure this vulnerable group remain adequately protected.

[Illustration by Jawahir Al-Naimi/Al Jazeera]

Reader’s question: Can sleep boost my immune system?

Since the pandemic began, many people have looked for natural ways to help maintain a healthy immune system. Getting a regular, good night’s sleep is actually beneficial to the immune system. Sleeping for seven to nine hours each night gives the body a chance to rest and recover.  When we sleep, our bodies produce more T-cells, which are immune cells that play a critical role in fighting off infections. We also produce proteins called cytokines while we sleep; these target areas of infections and inflammation, aiding the healing process. Combined with a balanced diet rich in fruit and vegetables and regular exercise, getting a good night’s sleep is a natural way to boost your immune system.

Has Being So Careful During The COVID-19 Pandemic Altered Our Immune Systems?

Has Being So Careful During The COVID-19 Pandemic Altered Our Immune Systems?

  • June 7, 2021

Staying home during the COVID-19 pandemic was an invaluable public health measure that helped to greatly reduce transmission of the virus and save many lives (at least more than the incredible amount of people we lost).

But life in lockdown certainly isn’t typical for most of us. It has raised questions about what a year of relative isolation, masking and just general germ-avoidance may have done to our immune systems. Have they been wrecked? Are we basically just babies reborn? Do we need to behave differently now?

Of course, many people have been working and learning in-person for months now, while others are just starting to re-emerge. So here is what we know about what happened to people’s immune systems during the pandemic, as well as what to expect as even more people dive back into their old routines.

Most adults’ immune systems will NOT have been weakened by isolation

Perhaps you’ve heard about the hygiene hypothesis, which is the idea that exposure to certain viruses, bacteria or parasites in childhood helps the immune system develop. Based on that theory, some people are worried that people’s immune systems will be walloped when they go back out into the world, because they haven’t been exposed to many germs over the past year-plus. But experts aren’t concerned.

“There is no cause for concern that social distancing has weakened our immune systems,” Sindhura Bandi, an allergy and immunology specialist and associate professor of medicine and pediatrics with Rush University Medical Center, told HuffPost. “By adulthood, we have come into contact with many types of viruses and bacteria. Our immune system has created memory to these pathogens, so that when we come into contact with them we can make antibodies to fight off the disease.”

In other words, your body has already spent a lifetime developing antibodies to common illnesses through direct exposure or through vaccination, Bandi explained. One year of staying home and masking (which again, helped fight a deadly pandemic) is not going to drastically change that.

That said, you might come down with a cold when you head back into the office ― because you’re going to be around more germs again, and because, yes, your immune system is a bit out of practice.

“Our immune systems have not been exposed to common everyday pathogens,” explained Monaa Zafar, a doctor of internal medicine with Westmed Medical Group. She also noted that people’s immunity may have been hampered by other lifestyle changes over the past year — like the fact that many people have been drinking more, sleeping less, coping with chronic stress and not getting outdoors and getting sufficient vitamin D.

Experts also have questions about what the 2021-2022 flu season could be like after being virtually nonexistent this past year. There’s some speculation it could be particularly bad as experts struggle to predict which strains to target with next year’s vaccine, though no one really knows.

But concerns about a potentially tough flu season don’t have anything to do with people’s immune systems and being sheltered in 2020.

People who had COVID-19 might have long-term immune system changes that we don’t totally understand yet

While most adults’ immune systems haven’t been changed by the pandemic, some people who were infected with COVID-19 and recovered could, indeed, experience some long-term alterations to their immune system function.

“Some patients experienced a significant inflammatory response as the immune system worked to fight the disease,” Bandi said. “Recovery from the illness has led to long-term effects ― commonly referred to as ‘long-haul COVID’ ― which may be tied to the immune system.”

Experts are still unraveling what causes some people to come down with long-haul COVID ― or post-acute sequelae of SARS-CoV-2 infection (PASC) as it is now officially known ― as well as what causes it. One working theory is that lingering symptoms may stem from a persistent inflammatory or autoimmune response.

What all of that means in terms of people’s immune system function as they head back out into the world is still a question — and a pressing one. Estimates suggest up to 1 in 4 COVID-19 patients are long-haulers. And of course there have been more than 33 million reported cases of COVID-19 in the United States alone. So understanding the potential broader impact on the immune system in people who’ve had the virus will be important.

Kids might get more colds

There is a chance that young kids who’ve missed out on a year of day care or preschool could be prone to more colds and other infections when they begin spending more time together again.

“There are studies that demonstrate that toddlers who attend congregate child care settings, and presumably are exposed to more germs, are less likely to develop viral illnesses, allergies and autoimmune diseases in grade school,” Bandi said.

But context is really key here. Sure, young kids might have a harder time fighting off some common illnesses when they get back to their old routines, but it was essential to keep them isolated for much of the year because it lowered their risk of getting — and spreading — COVID-19.

Also, they still have ample opportunities to be exposed to germs down the road.

“As the general population becomes vaccinated and we are able to open up again, these young children will have plenty of opportunity for their immune systems to become exposed to and make antibodies to common childhood cold viruses,” Bandi said.

Sleep, socialization and staying home when sick will all be really important

Ultimately, there’s no clear scientific evidence that if you engage in certain habits or behaviors you can really directly “boost” your immune system, but taking care of your overall well-being certainly won’t hamper how it functions. Doing things like getting plenty of sleep and loading up on nutrients are always good ideas.

“Getting six to eight hours of sleep nightly, 150 minutes of exercise weekly, eating whole grains, lean protein, fruit and vegetables in a balanced diet all help strengthen our immune systems,” Zafar said.

“I believe the most powerful immune-booster is regular physical activity,” echoed Tuvana Bain, a doctor of internal medicine with Westmed Medical Group.

There’s been a lot of talk about how important social connection is for our mental health and well-being, but there may be an important immune-system element to reconnecting with friends and loved ones as the world slowly reopens as well.

“As people are able to connect again with family, friends and colleagues, this can have an indirect effect on boosting the immune system,” Bandi said. Indeed, research has linked loneliness to all kinds of poor physical outcomes, from heart disease to decreased levels of certain antiviral compounds in the body.

Lastly, it’s going to be really important over this next stretch to avoid the tendency to go into the office or send your kid off to school when sick. Staying home and resting not only gives your own immune system a chance to fight back, it also helps keep other people safe.

“In the past, we may try to stick it out for the workday or give our child some Tylenol before sending them off to school to suppress the fever,” Bandi said. “We have to remember there are vulnerable people around us.”

The good news is, most of us have become much more attune to how our own behaviors impact the health of others, and we’ve become pretty darn good at basic preventive measures.

“Nothing beats frequent hand-washing as the ultimate protection from infection,” Bain said.

Experts are still learning about COVID-19. The information in this story is what was known or available as of publication, but guidance can change as scientists discover more about the virus. Please check the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for the most updated recommendations.

Will COVID-19 Vaccines Give Lifelong Immunity to the Disease?

Will COVID-19 Vaccines Give Lifelong Immunity to the Disease?

  • June 5, 2021

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Our best bet to stop COVID-19 is to get as many people vaccinated as possible. Noam Galai/Getty Images
  • Two recent studies have found that infection-induced immunity might last months.
  • Experts believe vaccination would make infection-induced immunity last even longer.
  • Researchers found that many people who recover from COVID-19 and later receive an mRNA vaccine may not need further booster shots.

Whether we would develop immunity to COVID-19, or how long that would last if we did, has been a mystery since the early months of the pandemic.

However, two new studies are helping us better understand how our immune systems adapt to infection, and what that might mean for vaccination.

The studies, published in May, find that infection-induced immunity might last months or longer. But experts believe vaccination may lengthen the duration of this immunity.

Another important finding from both studies is that many people who have recovered from COVID-19 and later receive an mRNA vaccine (like the Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine) may not need booster shots.

Both studies examined people exposed to the coronavirus roughly a year earlier.

According to one study, published in Nature, immune cells located in our bone marrow keep a “memory” of the coronavirus and are able to create protective antibodies to prevent reinfection.

The other study, which is not yet peer-reviewed, found these immune cells can mature and strengthen for about a year after infection.

“The data suggest that immunity in convalescent individuals will be very long lasting and that convalescent individuals who receive available mRNA vaccines will produce antibodies and memory B cells that should be protective against circulating SARS-CoV-2 variants,” the study authors wrote.

According to Dr. Miriam Smith, chief of infectious disease at Long Island Jewish Forest Hills, Northwell Health in New York, our immune systems include B cells, which are a type of white blood cell (WBC) responsible for humoral immunity.

“They originate and mature in the bone marrow, then migrate to the spleen and lymph nodes,” she told Healthline. “B cells become activated in response to an antigen, a virus, or bacterium.”

Smith explained that B cells have receptors on their surface that can bind to these pathogens.

“With help from the T cells, another component of the immune system, the B cells will differentiate into plasma cells to produce antibodies that will trap the virus or bacterium invader and allow other cells (macrophages) to destroy the invader,” Smith said.

She said that after infection, the “memory” B cells stay around, so if that same virus or bacterium invades again, the immune system “remembers” and reactivates to fight it off.

“It’s still important for those people to be vaccinated,” said Dr. Len Horovitz, pulmonary specialist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. “Their immunity, as far as we know, may not be long-lived more than the 11 months that were documented.”

He explained that this means people who’ve had the disease cannot rely on previous infection to achieve immunity the way people could with measles, mumps, and rubella, “and those aren’t necessarily permanent immunity, but let’s say lifelong,” he added.

According to Horovitz, reinfections don’t necessarily mean a milder case of the disease.

“It can be milder, it can be the same in degree of severity, and it can be worse,” he explained. “So, there’s a lot we don’t know.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reinfection means someone got sick once, recovered, and then got sick again. The CDC emphasizes that although uncommon, reinfection can happen with COVID-19.

“We do not know the exact rate [of reinfection],” Horovitz said. “We know it can occur, we know that it’s not common, but it’s not rare.”

If reinfection is possible, Horvitz pointed out, “then you can spread it to other people.”

He said this means people who contract another infection will not contribute to herd immunity.

“So, it is important if you’ve had COVID not to rely on the fact that you’ve had it and probably won’t get it again,” Horvitz said. “And you need to be immunized because the antibodies that you get from infection are different from the antibodies that you get from immunization. They’re two different measurable antibodies.”

These new studies also suggest that a majority of people who have recovered from COVID-19 and were later immunized with one of the mRNA vaccines will not need booster shots to maintain protection against the virus.

However, vaccinated people who didn’t have a previous infection will likely require booster shots, as will the small number of people who had the disease but didn’t produce a sufficiently strong immune response.

According to Horovitz, booster shots may likely help.

“In fact, there was an article this week in The New York Times where they looked at the response of people who’ve had COVID and are vaccinated, and they had an unbelievable immune response — much more than somebody who was COVID naïve [hadn’t had a previous infection],” he said.

“So, someone who’s had COVID-19, gets immunized, then they never have to have a booster,” he continued. “They have more immunity than someone who’s been vaccinated [and never had a previous infection], it would seem.”

Two recently published studies have found that people who recover from COVID-19 develop antibodies that may last almost a year.

Experts say that reinfection, while uncommon, can still happen — and being vaccinated with one of the mRNA vaccines (like the Moderna of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine) can significantly boost immunity.

Experts also say that people who have had COVID-19 may not require booster shots to maintain protection, since the mRNA vaccines elicit such a powerful immune response in this group.

However, experts caution that people who haven’t had a previous infection will likely need them.

COVID 19: 5 foods to boost your immunity during the pandemic with an Ayurvedic diet

COVID 19: 5 foods to boost your immunity during the pandemic with an Ayurvedic diet

  • June 4, 2021

We have for you some Ayurvedic tips to improve your immunity and protect yourself from the second wave of COVID-19 by adding these foods to your diet.

COVID-19 has drastically changed the way we look at health. By wreaking havoc and panic of an unprecedented nature, it has knocked the significance of leading a healthy lifestyle deep into our psyche. It is fast dawning upon us that COVID-19, which renders our immune system less effective, can be fought against by strengthening one’s immunity.

 

Before moving forward let us understand what immunity actually is. Our immune system is the body’s natural defence system against illness and infections. It works non-stop in saving our body from diseases. A healthy immune system helps us go about daily life as we come into contact with germs and bugs from pets, people and the environment. It helps prevent diseases that could otherwise enter the body very easily and could have an adverse effect.

 

Ayurvedic texts suggest that prevention is an equally important aspect of disease management as a cure and thus, strengthening the immune system is a natural way to help the body fight against the disease-causing pathogens. Therefore, Ayurveda promotes the use of Rasayana (rejuvenating herbs) to enhance ojas and vyadhikshamatva (immunity). Furthermore, in order to combat infections that may enter the body, it is important to follow a good diet, exercise and sleep routine. Doing that not only helps boost immunity but also keeps our mind and body balanced and healthy.

 

As per Ayurveda, the below-mentioned foods can help strengthen and improve your immune system from within:

 

Amla (Indian Gooseberry) 

 

It is considered to be a very rich source of vitamin C. In Ayurveda, amla forms an important part of numerous medicinal formulations. This green fruit contains ascorbic acid, as well as calcium, potassium, iron, and vitamin B-complex. Apart from all this, it is also rich in antioxidants, which aid in the battle against free radicals, helps keep hair colour dark, and acts as a bulwark against pathogens.

Khajoor (Dates) 

 

Khajoor figures high and often in the list of Ayurvedic remedies. Not only does it taste great, but it also has many immunity-enhancing properties. It contains minerals like iron, magnesium, selenium, copper, zinc and vitamins A&B, and is often prescribed to people suffering from anaemia due to its high iron content. Further, it can be easily incorporated into our diet as a snack.

 

Moong Beans (Moong Dal)

 

Do you sometimes feel drowsy, sleepy, or have erratic bowel movements, or do you have a thick white film on the surface of your tongue? Moong daal is recommended by Ayurveda for such conditions due to its high fibre content as well as other basic vitamins, proteins, and minerals. A staple in Indian households, moong dal khichdi is the most convenient way of making the most of Moong Dal’s nutritional benefit.

 

Turmeric 

 

As children, whenever we would fall ill or sustain some injury, our grandparents would tell us to drink turmeric milk, a common time-tested and trusted home remedy. Turmeric is recommended because of its powerful anti-inflammatory property, which helps fasten the healing process. Besides, it also helps prevent heart diseases and increases blood supply in the body.

 

 

Ghee 

 

Ghee is used in Ayurveda for both medicinal and culinary purposes. Ghee nourishes the body internally and rejuvenates the body tissues. Butyric acid found naturally in ghee helps in boosting the immune system.

 

About the author: Dr Partap Chauhan is the Director of Jiva Ayurveda, is an author, public speaker, TV personality and Ayurvedacharya.

 

Also Read: 5 Best foods to eat before bedtime to help promote sound sleep at night


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