Can Supplements Help Fight COVID-19? Here’s What We Know

Can Supplements Help Fight COVID-19? Here’s What We Know

  • October 19, 2020

By Laura Beil

Consumers have long turned to vitamins and herbs to try to protect themselves from disease. This pandemic is no different — especially with headlines that scream “This supplement could save you from coronavirus.


It also helps to have celebrity enthusiasts. When President Donald Trump was diagnosed with COVID-19, his pill arsenal included Vitamin D and zinc. And in an Instagram chat with actress Jennifer Garner in September, infectious diseases expert Anthony Fauci touted vitamins C and D as ways that might generally boost the immune system. “If you’re deficient in vitamin D,” he noted, “that does have an impact on your susceptibility to infection. I would not mind recommending, and I do it myself, taking vitamin D supplements.”

But whether over-the-counter supplements can actually prevent, or even treat, COVID-19, is not clear. Since the disease is so new, researchers haven’t had much time for the kind of large experiments that provide the best answers. Instead, scientists have mostly relied on fresh takes on old data. Some studies have looked at outcomes of patients who routinely take certain supplements — and found some promising hints. But so far there’s little data from the kinds of scientifically rigorous experiments that give doctors confidence when recommending supplements.

Here’s what we know today about three supplements getting plenty of attention around COVID-19.

Vitamin D

What it is: Called “the sunshine vitamin” because the body makes it naturally in the presence of ultraviolet light, Vitamin D is one of the most heavily studied supplements (SN: 1/27/19). Certain foods, including fish and fortified milk products, are also high in the vitamin.

Why it might help: Vitamin D is a hormone building block that helps strengthen the immune system.

How it works for other infections: In 2017, the British Medical Journal published a meta-analysis that suggested a daily vitamin D supplement might help prevent respiratory infections, particularly in people who are deficient in the vitamin.

But one key word here is deficient. That risk is highest during dark winters at high latitudes and among people with more color in their skin (melanin, a pigment that’s higher in darker skin, inhibits the production of vitamin D).

“If you have enough vitamin D in your body, the evidence doesn’t stack up to say that giving you more will make a real difference,” says Susan Lanham-New, head of the Nutritional Sciences Department at the University of Surrey in England.

And taking too much can create new health problems, stressing certain internal organs and leading to a dangerously high calcium buildup in the blood. The recommended daily allowance for adults is 600 to 800 International Units per day, and the upper limit is considered to be 4,000 IUs per day.

What we know about Vitamin D and COVID-19: Few studies have looked directly at whether vitamin D makes a difference in COVID.

In May, in the BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health, Lanham-New and her colleagues published a summary of existing evidence and concluded that there’s only enough to recommend vitamin D to help with COVID-19 prevention for people who are deficient. That paper made inferences from how vitamin D works against other respiratory tract infections and immune health.

More than a dozen studies are now testing vitamin D directly for prevention and treatment, including a large one led by JoAnn Manson, a leading expert on vitamin D. An epidemiologist and preventive medicine physician at Harvard Medical School and Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston. That study will analyze if vitamin D can affect the course of a COVID-19 infection. The trial aims to recruit 2,700 people across the United States with newly diagnosed infections, along with their close household contacts.

The goal is to determine whether newly diagnosed people given high doses of vitamin D — 3,200 IU per day — are less likely than people who get a placebo to experience severe symptoms and need hospitalization. “The biological plausibility for a benefit in COVID is compelling,” she says, given the nutrient’s theoretical ability to impede the severe inflammatory reaction that can follow coronavirus infection. “However the evidence is not conclusive at this time.”

Zinc

What it is: Zinc, a mineral found in cells all over the body, is found naturally in certain meats, beans and oysters.

Why it might help: It plays several supportive roles in the immune system, which is why zinc lozenges are always hot sellers in cold and flu season. Zinc also helps with cell division and growth.

How it works for other infections: Studies of using zinc for colds — which are frequently caused by coronaviruses — suggest that using a supplement right after symptoms start might make them go away quicker. That said, a clinical trial from researchers in Finland and the United Kingdom, published in January in BMJ Open did not find any value for zinc lozenges for the treatment of colds. Some researchers have theorized that inconsistencies in data for colds may be explained by varying amounts of zinc released in different lozenges.

What we know about zinc and COVID-19: The mineral is promising enough that it was added to some early studies of hydroxychloroquine, a drug tested early in the pandemic. (Studies have since shown that hydroxychloroquine can’t prevent or treat COVID-19 (SN: 8/2/20).)

In July, researchers from Aachen University in Germany wrote in Frontiers of Immunology that current evidence “strongly suggests great benefits of zinc supplementation” based on looking at similar infections including SARS, another disease caused by a coronavirus. For example, studies suggest that giving zinc reduces the risk for death from a pneumonia infection. The researchers cite evidence that zinc might help prevent the virus from entering the body, and help slow the virus’s replication when it does.

Another review — also based on indirect evidence — published August 1 in Advances in Integrative Medicine also concluded that zinc might be helpful in people who are deficient.

In September, researchers from Hospital Del Marin Barcelona reported that among 249 patients studied, those who survived COVID had higher zinc levels in their plasma (an average of 63.1 mcg/dl) than those who died (43mcg/dl).

Overall, though, the jury is still out, says Suma Thomas, a cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, who in June led a team that reviewed the evidence for popular supplements in the Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine. Given what’s already known, zinc could possibly decrease the duration of infection but not the severity of symptoms, she said, particularly among people who are deficient. About a dozen studies are now looking at zinc for COVID treatment, often with other drugs or supplements.

Thomas and her colleagues are comparing symptom severity and future hospitalization in COVID-19 patients who take zinc with and without high doses of vitamin C with those who receive ordinary care without the supplement. Results are expected soon, she says.

Vitamin C

What it is: Also called L-ascorbic acid, vitamin C has a long list of roles in the body. It’s found naturally in fruits and vegetables, especially citrus, peppers and tomatoes.

Why it might help: It’s a potent antioxidant that’s important for a healthy immune system and preventing inflammation.

How it works for other infections: Thomas cautions that the data on vitamin C are often contradictory. One review from Chinese researchers, published in February in the Journal of Medical Virology, looked at what is already known about vitamin C and other supplements that might have a role in COVID-19 treatment. Among other encouraging signs, human studies find a lower incidence of pneumonia among people taking vitamin C, “suggesting that vitamin C might prevent the susceptibility to lower respiratory tract infections under certain conditions.”

But for preventing colds, a 2013 Cochrane review of 29 studies didn’t support the idea that vitamin C supplements could help in the general population. However, the authors wrote, given that vitamin C is cheap and safe, “it may be worthwhile for common cold patients to test on an individual basis whether therapeutic vitamin C is beneficial.”

What we know about Vitamin C and COVID-19: About a dozen studies are under way or planned to examine whether vitamin C added to coronavirus treatment helps with symptoms or survival, including Thomas’ study at the Cleveland Clinic.

In a review published online in July in Nutrition, researchers from KU Leuven in Belgium concluded that the vitamin may help prevent infection and tamp down the dangerous inflammatory reaction that can cause severe symptoms, based on what is known about how the nutrient works in the body.

Melissa Badowski, a pharmacist who specializes in viral infections at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Pharmacy and colleague Sarah Michienzi published an extensive look at all supplements that might be useful in the coronavirus epidemic. There’s still not enough evidence to know whether they are helpful, the pair concluded in July in Drugs in Context. “It’s not really clear if it’s going to benefit patients,” Badowski says.

And while supplements are generally safe, she adds that nothing is risk free. The best way to avoid infection, she says, is still to follow the advice of epidemiologists and public health experts: “Wash your hands, wear a mask, stay six feet apart.”

This story was originally published by Science News, a nonprofit independent news organization.

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What can vitamin D and zinc do to fight COVID-19?

What can vitamin D and zinc do to fight COVID-19?

  • October 16, 2020

Several recent studies have looked at the impact of vitamin D and zinc on COVID-19.

One study of 489 people found that those who had a vitamin D deficiency were more likely to test positive for the virus.

Another study found that of 50 people with COVID-19 in the hospital, only one needed ICU treatment after being given high doses of vitamin D.

By this point, we’ve all seen patients in the hospital receive these supplements.

The most notable, President Trump, received a mixture of vitamin D and zinc along with a number of other experimental drugs.

Does it work?

According to the National Institutes of Health, because of the suspected benefits, availability and cheap cost, they’d like to find something this simple can cure or prevent coronavirus, but the truth is, it’s not proven yet.

Registered dietitian Erin Gussler explains the possible benefits, “They can help the immune system identify pathogens in the body, so helping the immune system recognize the virus in the body and they also are part of the immune system and the mechanism that blocks the viruses from being able to get into the cells.”

How much vitamin D do I need?

Unfortunately, between working inside and wearing sunscreen, Americans generally don’t soak up enough sun to produce vitamin D.

“You can find it naturally in liver, egg yolks, butter, oily fish,” Gussler said.

Ask your doctor for a blood test to determine how much vitamin D you may need with an over-the-counter pill. Gussler said needs can vary from 1,00 IUs to 50,000 IUs.

Should I take zinc?

“Research is really supporting that zinc supplementation does reduce the severity, the frequency and the duration of the common cold,” Gussler said. “Obviously the research isn’t quite out there on COVID but we can extrapolate that it does have a lot of immune benefits.”

If you’re sick, you may notice a boost of zinc can help you feel better. Both zinc and vitamin D are the main ingredients in many over-the-counter cold medicines.

If you’re not sick, Gussler recommends only taking zinc through a multi-vitamin, typically not large amounts by itself.

“Zinc and copper compete for the same receptor site in the body,” Gussler said. “So, if you do a lot of zinc and not supplementing copper and making sure you’re getting enough copper, you can actually create a copper deficiency which can cause anemia for some people.”

There are some zinc tablets that also contain copper, which you can ask your doctor if that’s a good option for you.

The foods which contain Zinc also contain copper, which naturally helps to balance each other: Meat, shellfish, chickpeas, lentils, beans, nuts and seeds.

Isn’t vitamin D deficiency common in the US?

It sure is!

Vitamin D deficiency is particularly common among Hispanic and black people, two groups who have been disproportionately affected by COVID-19, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Vitamin D deficiency is also more common in people who are older, and those who are obese or have high blood pressure. Again, these factors also increase the risk of severe COVID-19 symptoms.

Copyright 2020 by KPRC Click2Houston – All rights reserved.

Here’s what we know about using supplements to fight COVID-19

Here’s what we know about using supplements to fight COVID-19

  • October 16, 2020

Consumers have long turned to vitamins and herbs to try to protect themselves from disease. This pandemic is no different — especially with headlines that scream “This supplement could save you from coronavirus.”

It also helps to have celebrity enthusiasts. When President Donald Trump was diagnosed with COVID-19, his pill arsenal included Vitamin D and zinc. And in an Instagram chat with actress Jennifer Garner in September, infectious diseases expert Anthony Fauci touted vitamins C and D as ways that might generally boost the immune system. “If you’re deficient in vitamin D,” he noted, “that does have an impact on your susceptibility to infection. I would not mind recommending, and I do it myself, taking vitamin D supplements.”

But whether over-the-counter supplements can actually prevent, or even treat, COVID-19, is not clear. Since the disease is so new, researchers haven’t had much time for the kind of large experiments that provide the best answers. Instead, scientists have mostly relied on fresh takes on old data. Some studies have looked at outcomes of patients who routinely take certain supplements — and found some promising hints. But so far there’s little data from the kinds of scientifically rigorous experiments that give doctors confidence when recommending supplements.

Here’s what we know today about three supplements getting plenty of attention around COVID-19.

Vitamin D

What it is: Called “the sunshine vitamin” because the body makes it naturally in the presence of ultraviolet light, Vitamin D is one of the most heavily studied supplements (SN: 1/27/19). Certain foods, including fish and fortified milk products, are also high in the vitamin. 

Why it might help: Vitamin D is a hormone building block that helps strengthen the immune system.

How it works for other infections: In 2017, the British Medical Journal published a meta-analysis that suggested a daily vitamin D supplement might help prevent respiratory infections, particularly in people who are deficient in the vitamin.

But one key word here is deficient. That risk is highest during dark winters at high latitudes and among people with more color in their skin (melanin, a pigment that’s higher in darker skin, inhibits the production of vitamin D).

“If you have enough vitamin D in your body, the evidence doesn’t stack up to say that giving you more will make a real difference,” says Susan Lanham-New, head of the Nutritional Sciences Department at the University of Surrey in England.

And taking too much can create new health problems, stressing certain internal organs and leading to a dangerously high calcium buildup in the blood. The recommended daily allowance for adults is 600 to 800 International Units per day, and the upper limit is considered to be 4,000 IUs per day.

What we know about Vitamin D and COVID-19: Few studies have looked directly at whether vitamin D makes a difference in COVID.

In May, in the BMJ Nutrition, Prevention & Health, Lanham-New and her colleagues published a summary of existing evidence and concluded that there’s only enough to recommend vitamin D to help with COVID-19 prevention for people who are deficient. That paper made inferences from how vitamin D works against other respiratory tract infections and immune health.

More than a dozen studies are now testing vitamin D directly for prevention and treatment, including a large one led by JoAnn Manson, a leading expert on vitamin D. An epidemiologist and preventive medicine physician at Harvard Medical School and Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston. That study will analyze if vitamin D can affect the course of a COVID-19 infection. The trial aims to recruit 2,700 people across the United States with newly diagnosed infections, along with their close household contacts.

The goal is to determine whether newly diagnosed people given high doses of vitamin D — 3,200 IU per day — are less likely than people who get a placebo to experience severe symptoms and need hospitalization. “The biological plausibility for a benefit in COVID is compelling,” she says, given the nutrient’s theoretical ability to impede the severe inflammatory reaction that can follow coronavirus infection. “However the evidence is not conclusive at this time.”

Zinc

What it is: Zinc, a mineral found in cells all over the body, is found naturally in certain meats, beans and oysters.

Why it might help: It plays several supportive roles in the immune system, which is why zinc lozenges are always hot sellers in cold and flu season. Zinc also helps with cell division and growth.

How it works for other infections:  Studies of using zinc for colds — which are frequently caused by coronaviruses — suggest that using a supplement right after symptoms start might make them go away quicker. That said, a clinical trial from researchers in Finland and the United Kingdom, published in January in BMJ Open did not find any value for zinc lozenges for the treatment of colds. Some researchers have theorized that inconsistences in data for colds may be explained by varying amounts of zinc released in different lozenges.

What we know about zinc and COVID-19: The mineral is promising enough that it was added to some early studies of hydroxychloroquine, a drug tested early in the pandemic. (Studies have since shown that hydroxychloroquine can’t prevent or treat COVID-19 (SN: 8/2/20).)

In July, researchers from Aachen University in Germany wrote in Frontiers of Immunology that current evidence “strongly suggests great benefits of zinc supplementation” based on looking at similar infections including SARS, another disease caused by a coronavirus. For example, studies suggest that giving zinc reduces the risk for death from a pneumonia infection. The researchers cite evidence that zinc might help prevent the virus from entering the body, and help slow the virus’s replication when it does.

Another review — also based on indirect evidence — published August 1 in Advances in Integrative Medicine also concluded that zinc might be helpful in people who are deficient.

In September, researchers from Hospital Del Marin Barcelona reported that among 249 patients studied, those who survived COVID had higher zinc levels in their plasma (an average of 63.1 mcg/dl) than those who died (43mcg/dl).

Overall, though, the jury is still out, says Suma Thomas, a cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, who in June led a team that reviewed the evidence for popular supplements in the Cleveland Clinic Journal of Medicine. Given what’s already known, zinc could possibly decrease the duration of infection but not the severity of symptoms, she said, particularly among people who are deficient. About a dozen studies are now looking at zinc for COVID treatment, often with other drugs or supplements.

Thomas and her colleagues are comparing symptom severity and future hospitalization in COVID-19 patients who take zinc with and without high doses of vitamin C with those who receive ordinary care without the supplement. Results are expected soon, she says.

Vitamin C

What it is: Also called L-ascorbic acid, vitamin C has a long list of roles in the body. It’s found naturally in fruits and vegetables, especially citrus, peppers and tomatoes.

Why it might help: It’s a potent antioxidant that’s important for a healthy immune system and preventing inflammation.

How it works for other infections: Thomas cautions that the data on vitamin C are often contradictory. One review from Chinese researchers, published in February in the Journal of Medical Virology, looked at what is already known about vitamin C and other supplements that might have a role in COVID-19 treatment. Among other encouraging signs, human studies find a lower incidence of pneumonia among people taking vitamin C, “suggesting that vitamin C might prevent the susceptibility to lower respiratory tract infections under certain conditions.”

But for preventing colds, a 2013 Cochrane review of 29 studies didn’t support the idea that vitamin C supplements could help in the general population. However, the authors wrote, given that vitamin C is cheap and safe, “it may be worthwhile for common cold patients to test on an individual basis whether therapeutic vitamin C is beneficial.”

What we know about Vitamin C and COVID-19: About a dozen studies are under way or planned to examine whether vitamin C added to coronavirus treatment helps with symptoms or survival, including Thomas’ study at the Cleveland Clinic.

In a review published online in July in Nutrition, researchers from KU Leuven in Belgium concluded that the vitamin may help prevent infection and tamp down the dangerous inflammatory reaction that can cause severe symptoms, based on what is known about how the nutrient works in the body.

Melissa Badowski, a pharmacist who specializes in viral infections at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Pharmacy and colleague Sarah Michienzi published an extensive look at all supplements that might be useful in the coronavirus epidemic. There’s still not enough evidence to know whether they are helpful, the pair concluded in July in Drugs in Context. “It’s not really clear if it’s going to benefit patients,” Badowski says.

And while supplements are generally safe, she adds that nothing is risk free. The best way to avoid infection, she says, is still to follow the advice of epidemiologists and public health experts: “Wash your hands, wear a mask, stay six feet apart.”

Cancer-Killing T Cells “Swarm” Tumors Attracting Other Cells To Fight

Cancer-Killing T Cells “Swarm” Tumors Attracting Other Cells To Fight

  • October 15, 2020

When immune system T cells find and recognise a target, they release chemicals to attract more T cells which then swarm to help subdue the threat, shows a new study published today in eLife.

The discovery of this swarming behaviour, and the chemical attractants that immune cells use to direct swarms towards tumours, could one day help scientists develop new cancer therapies that boost the immune system. This is particularly important for solid tumours, which so far have been less responsive to current immunotherapies than cancers affecting blood cells.

“Scientists have previously thought that cancer-killing T cells identified tumours by randomly searching for them or by following the chemical trails laid by other intermediary immune cells,” says lead author Jorge Luis Galeano Niño, a PhD graduate at UNSW Sydney. “We wanted to investigate this further to see if it’s true, or whether T cells locate tumours via another mechanism.”

Using 3D tumour models grown in the laboratory and in mouse models, the team showed that cancer-killing T cells can home-in on tumour cells independently of intermediary immune cells. When the T cells find and recognise a tumour, they release chemical signals, which then attract more T cells that sense the signals through a receptor called CCR5, and cause a swarm. “These cells coordinate their migration in a process reminiscent of the swarming observed in some insects and another type of immune cell called neutrophils, which help the body respond to injury and pathogens,” Galeano Niño says.

After confirming their results using computer modelling, the team genetically engineered human cells called chimeric antigen receptor (CAR)-T cells and showed they also swarm toward a 3D glioblastoma tumour grown in the laboratory.

CAR-T cells are currently being used to treat certain types of blood cancer. But the new findings suggest that it might also be possible to train these cells to attack solid tumours.

“Although this is fundamental research and at an early stage, the swarming mechanism could be exploited in the future to target CAR-T cells to solid tumours, potentially leading to enhanced immunotherapies that are more effective at infiltrating and destroying these types of tumours,” says senior author Maté Biro, EMBL Australia Group Leader at the Single Molecule Science node, UNSW.

“It will also be important to determine whether silencing the swarming mechanism could be beneficial in dampening overzealous T-cell responses following transplant surgery, in autoimmune conditions, or associated with viral infections,” he adds.

Reference: Niño JLG, Pageon SV, Tay SS, et al. Cytotoxic T Cells swarm by homotypic chemokine signalling. eLife. 2020.doi: 10.7554/eLife.56554

This article has been republished from the following materials. Note: material may have been edited for length and content. For further information, please contact the cited source.


COVID-19 reinfections are real, but extremely rare; most immune systems fight off repeat infection- Technology News, Firstpost

COVID-19 reinfections are real, but extremely rare; most immune systems fight off repeat infection- Technology News, Firstpost

  • October 14, 2020

Reports of reinfection with the coronavirus evoke a nightmarish future: Repeat bouts of illness, impotent vaccines, unrelenting lockdowns — a pandemic without an end. A case study published Monday, about a 25-year-old man in Nevada, has stoked those fears anew. The man, who was not named, became sicker the second time that he was infected with the virus, a pattern the immune system is supposed to prevent.

But these cases make the news precisely because they are rare, experts said: More than 38 million people worldwide have been infected with the coronavirus, and as of Monday, fewer than five of those cases have been confirmed by scientists to be reinfections.

“That’s tiny — it’s like a microliter-sized drop in the bucket, compared to the number of cases that have happened all over the world,” said Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at Columbia University in New York.

In most cases, a second bout with the virus produced milder symptoms or none at all. But for at least three people, including one patient in Ecuador, the illness was more severe the second time around than during the first infection. An 89-year-old woman in the Netherlands died during her second illness.

Rare as these cases may be, they do indicate that reinfection is possible, said Akiko Iwasaki, an immunologist at Yale University, who wrote a commentary accompanying the Nevada case study, published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases.

“It’s important to note that there are people who do get reinfected, and in some of those cases you get worse disease,” Iwasaki said. “You still need to keep wearing masks and practice social distancing even if you have recovered once from this infection.”

We asked experts what is known about reinfections with the coronavirus, and what the phenomenon means for vaccinations and the course of the pandemic.

Reinfection with the coronavirus is an unusual event.

First, the good news: Reinfection seems to be vanishingly rare.

Since the first confirmed case of reinfection, reported in Hong Kong on Aug. 24, there have been three published cases; reports of another 20 await scientific review.

But it is impossible to know exactly how widespread the phenomenon is. To confirm a case of reinfection, scientists must look for significant differences in the genes of the two coronaviruses causing both illnesses.

In the United States, where testing was a rare resource much of this year, many people were not tested unless they were sick enough to be hospitalized. Even then, their samples were usually not preserved for genetic analysis, making it impossible to confirm suspected reinfections.

A vast majority of people who do get reinfected may go undetected. For example, the man in Hong Kong had no symptoms the second time, and his infection was discovered only because of routine screening at the airport.

“There are a lot of people that are going to also have been exposed that aren’t having symptoms, that we’re never going to hear about,” said Marion Pepper, an immunologist at the University of Washington in Seattle.

People whose second infections are more severe are more likely to be identified, because they return to the hospital. But those are likely to be even rarer, experts said.

“If this was a very common event, we would have seen thousands of cases,” Iwasaki said.

In most people, the immune system works as expected.

 COVID-19 reinfections are real, but extremely rare; most immune systems fight off repeat infection

Survivors of COVID-19 who spent time on a ventilator may be at risk of long-term disability and illness. Image: Newscom/AP

Reinfections can occur for any number of reasons: because the initial infection was too mild to produce an immune response, for example, or because the immune system was compromised by other health conditions. On occasion, a patient may be exposed to a large amount of virus that seeded an infection before the immune response could respond.

This variability is entirely expected, experts said, and has been observed in patients with diseases like measles and malaria.

“You’ll never have the distribution of anything with millions of people where you don’t have some very severe rare cases happening at the fringe,” said Dr. Michael Mina, a pediatric immunologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

At least two of the reinfected patients in Europe had compromised immune systems, for example, and the 89-year-old woman who died was receiving chemotherapy. In other reinfected patients, genetic factors or the lack of certain previous immune exposures may have blunted the body’s ability to fight off a second attack.

“There are some people who just don’t develop good immune responses to certain pathogens,” said Florian Krammer, an immunologist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. “What is causing that? We’re not sure, but it’s rare, usually.”

In a vast majority of known infected patients, experts said, the immune system functions as it should against other pathogens.

“There are a lot of different infections where you can get reexposed to the virus, and we would probably not know because you don’t have symptoms,” Pepper said. “And that might be an important part of boosting immunity.”

When the body is exposed to an unfamiliar virus, it is normal first to develop some immunity and then to increase that response with each additional exposure. This phenomenon is well known among children, but it is less often seen in adults because they rarely encounter new viruses, Mina said.

“I think it’s important to recognize that reinfections are literally embedded in the evolution of our immune system,” he added. “We sometimes lose track of that with so many people talking about this who really haven’t studied the immune system.”

A resurgence of symptoms doesn’t prove reinfection.

For every confirmed case of reinfection, there are dozens of anecdotal reports of infected people who were sick and seemingly recovered but then became ill again weeks to months later.

They don't run a fever. They don't cough or feel short of breath but they do shed virus like symptomatic people do. Image: UN COVID-19 response/Unsplash

They don’t run a fever. They don’t cough or feel short of breath but they do shed virus like symptomatic people do. Image: UN COVID-19 response/Unsplash

Usually there are crucial data missing in those cases, like a confirmed lab diagnosis, or a virus sample that can be sequenced.

“The question is always, Is it a real reinfection?” Krammer said. “It’s very often very challenging to kind of get that kind of data.”

A vast majority of these cases are unlikely to be true infections. More likely, these are people experiencing a resurgence of symptoms connected to the original infection. The virus may set off an inflammatory response that can flare up even weeks later and cause symptoms like fatigue and heart problems. In rare cases, some patients may develop a chronic low-grade infection with the virus that never quite goes away.

“Even with viruses that can cause acute infections, like flu,” Krammer said, “you can have persistent infections if your immune system is sufficiently compromised.”

Although these are not real reinfections, they are still worrying if they lead to renewed illness or hospitalization months after the initial infection, Rasmussen said. “If there’s recrudescence happening frequently, and people are getting severely ill the second time around, that’s potentially its own problem,” she said.

People with a second bout may pass the virus to others.

Reinfected people without symptoms may still transmit the virus to others. The patient in Hong Kong, for example, was isolated in a hospital even though he had no symptoms. But his viral load was high enough that he could have passed the virus to others.

“Obviously, that person wasn’t ill, so it bodes well for him, but it doesn’t bode well for the community,” Pepper said.

But to be sure of infectiousness, researchers may need to look for live virus. South Korean researchers investigated hundreds of reports of reinfection and were able to rule them out as real cases after failing to grow infectious virus from the samples.

Similar procedures would be needed to rule out the possibility of transmission in each patient, Rasmussen said, adding, “I think that’s the only way you’d be able to get to the bottom of that.”

Vaccines may be crucial to preventing reinfections.

Reports of reinfection have raised concerns about whether vaccines for the coronavirus will be effective and help communities achieve population immunity. The worry is that the immunity produced by vaccines will not be sufficient in preventing reinfections with the virus.

In reality, experts said, vaccines have a better chance at generating robust immunity than does natural infection with the virus.

For example, the coronavirus is particularly adept at dodging the body’s early immune alarms, buying valuable time to seed an infection. In some people, this lag eventually triggers a cascading immune overreaction that can be more harmful than the infection itself.

Vaccines are intended to unfurl an immune response without interference from the virus, and thus may avoid this inflammatory sequence. Vaccines can also be manipulated to enhance immune memory, in that way producing more lasting, more protective responses.

Vaccine trials are designed to look for an absence of disease, rather than of infection, and it’s unclear whether vaccines can suppress virus levels enough to prevent transmission to others.

Still, vaccine-induced immunity should perform better than natural immunity, Rasmussen said, adding, “I’m optimistic.”

Apoorva Mandavilli. c.2020 The New York Times Company

New therapy extends breast cancer survival rate, prevents reoccurrence

Cancer-killing T cells ‘swarm’ to tumors, attracting others to the fight

  • October 13, 2020

When immune system T cells find and recognise a target, they release chemicals to attract more T cells which then swarm to help subdue the threat, shows a new study published today in eLife.

The discovery of this swarming behaviour, and the chemical attractants that immune cells use to direct swarms towards tumours, could one day help scientists develop new cancer therapies that boost the immune system. This is particularly important for solid tumours, which so far have been less responsive to current immunotherapies than cancers affecting blood cells.

“Scientists have previously thought that cancer-killing T cells identified tumours by randomly searching for them or by following the chemical trails laid by other intermediary immune cells,” says lead author Jorge Luis Galeano Niño, a PhD graduate at UNSW Sydney. “We wanted to investigate this further to see if it’s true, or whether T cells locate tumours via another mechanism.”

Using 3D tumour models grown in the laboratory and in mouse models, the team showed that cancer-killing T cells can home-in on tumour cells independently of intermediary immune cells. When the T cells find and recognise a tumour, they release chemical signals, which then attract more T cells that sense the signals through a receptor called CCR5, and cause a swarm. “These cells coordinate their migration in a process reminiscent of the swarming observed in some insects and another type of immune cell called neutrophils, which help the body respond to injury and pathogens,” Galeano Niño says.

After confirming their results using computer modelling, the team genetically engineered human cells called chimeric antigen receptor (CAR)-T cells and showed they also swarm toward a 3D glioblastoma tumour grown in the laboratory.

CAR-T cells are currently being used to treat certain types of blood cancer. But the new findings suggest that it might also be possible to train these cells to attack solid tumours.

“Although this is fundamental research and at an early stage, the swarming mechanism could be exploited in the future to target CAR-T cells to solid tumours, potentially leading to enhanced immunotherapies that are more effective at infiltrating and destroying these types of tumours,” says senior author Maté Biro, EMBL Australia Group Leader at the Single Molecule Science node, UNSW.

“It will also be important to determine whether silencing the swarming mechanism could be beneficial in dampening overzealous T-cell responses following transplant surgery, in autoimmune conditions, or associated with viral infections,” he adds.

###

Reference


The paper ‘Cytotoxic T cells swarm by homotypic chemokine signalling’ can be freely accessed online at https://doi.org/10.7554/eLife.56554. Contents, including text, figures and data, are free to reuse under a CC BY 4.0 license.

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7 Everyday Immunity-Boosting Foods That Can Help Fight Diseases

7 Everyday Immunity-Boosting Foods That Can Help Fight Diseases

  • October 12, 2020

If you love oysters, then you love it, even more, when you realize it’s immune benefits. Oysters are rich in energy, iron, vitamin C, zinc, vitamin A, and selenium. The minerals and vitamins found in oysters are critical for immune function.

Zinc, for example, is important for the wound healing process following an injury. Zinc also helps in the development of white blood cells. It plays an essential role in their activation during the immune response.

You often see people preparing garlic concoctions for the flu and colds.

One of the primary uses of garlic is to boost immune function. Garlic contains a compound called allicin, which is useful in fighting viruses and bacteria. When crushed, alliin turns to a compound called allicin, which contains sulphur. Alliin also contains other beneficial properties that help garlic in fighting viruses.

Garlic has immune modulation properties. It is involved in cytokine secretion, macrophage activation, immunoglobulin production, and phagocytosis. Through these mechanisms, garlic stimulates cells such as natural killer (NK) cells, macrophages, eosinophils, lymphocytes, and dendritic cells.

‘Immune boosting’ tuberculosis vaccine could help in Covid-19 fight | UK | News

‘Immune boosting’ tuberculosis vaccine could help in Covid-19 fight | UK | News

  • October 11, 2020

The Bacillus Calmette-Guerin (BCG) vaccine will be trialled globally to 10,000 people after the injection was found to stimulate the immune system. It could help people fight off COVID-19 until more effective vaccines are discovered. The trial will see participants either given the BCG vaccine, which is currently given to more than 100 million babies worldwide each year, or a placebo injection.

The study has received more than 10 million US dollars (£7.6million) from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to allow it to expand globally.

The University of Exeter is leading the UK arm of the trial and will soon recruit healthcare staff and care home workers in the UK.

Researchers are targetting professionals who work in jobs which have a high exposure to COVID-19.

The study is being coordinated by the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Melbourne Australia.

The UK will join forces with study centres in Australia, the Netherlands, Spain and Brazil in what will be the largest trial of its kind.

In the UK, routine BCG vaccination was stopped in 2005 because of low rates of TB in the general population.

Professor John Campbell, of the University of Exeter Medical School, said: “COIVD-19 has killed more than a million people globally, with well over 33 million people acquiring the disease, sometimes in its severest forms.

“BCG has been shown to boost immunity in a generalised way, which may offer some protection against COVID-19.

“We’re excited to be contributing to the large-scale, international study where we are seeking to establish whether the BCG vaccine could help protect people who are at risk of COVID-19.

“If it does, we could save lives by administering or topping up this readily available and cost-effective vaccination.”

Researchers are looking to see if the BCG vaccine, which works by boosting immunity by “training” the body to respond to other subsequent infections with greater intensity.

It is hoped this improved “innate immunity” will buy crucial time needed to develop an effective and safe vaccine against COVID-19.

Prof Campbell added: “People on the COVID-19 front line, including healthcare workers and care home workers, are particularly vulnerable to coronavirus infection.

“Up until now, care home workers have been overlooked by most research.

“The trial provides us with a great opportunity to offer potential help to this important group of individuals who are providing healthcare to some of our most vulnerable citizens in important community settings.

“I’d really encourage care home staff to join us, to help us find out if the BCG vaccine might provide a safe, widely available and cost-effective way to reduce the risk of COVID-19.”

TB jab could help fight against Covid-19

TB jab could help fight against Covid-19

  • October 11, 2020
TB jab could help fight against Covid-19

A vaccine usually given to protect children from tuberculosis could help adults fight against coronavirus, according to researchers.

The Bacillus Calmette–Guerin (BCG) vaccine will be trialled globally to 10,000 people after the injection was found to stimulate the immune system.

It would not be the ultimate solution but would instead help people fight off coronavirus until more effective vaccines are discovered.

The University of Exeter is leading the UK arm of the trial and will soon recruit healthcare staff and care home workers in the UK.

The Peter Sowerby Foundation has contributed funding to support the Exeter trial site.

The UK joins study centres in Australia, the Netherlands, Spain and Brazil in the largest trial of its kind.

Participants will be given either the BCG vaccine, which is currently given to more than 100 million babies worldwide each year to protect against tuberculosis, or a placebo injection.

Professor John Campbell, of the University of Exeter Medical School, said: “Covid-19 has killed more than a million people globally, with well over 33 million people acquiring the disease, sometimes in its severest forms.

“BCG has been shown to boost immunity in a generalised way, which may offer some protection against Covid-19.

“We’re excited to be contributing to the large-scale, international study where we are seeking to establish whether the BCG vaccine could help protect people who are at risk of Covid-19.

“If it does, we could save lives by administering or topping up this readily available and cost-effective vaccination.”

Previous studies suggest that the BCG vaccine could reduce susceptibility to a range of infections caused by viruses including those similar to the novel coronavirus causing Covid-19.

Examining the mechanism by which this may work is part of the trial being conducted by the researchers.

The BCG vaccine boosts immunity by “training” the immune system to respond to other subsequent infections with greater intensity.

Researchers hope this improved “innate immunity” will buy crucial time to develop an effective and safe vaccine against Covid-19.

The trial is recruiting care and healthcare workers in the south west of England, who can attend clinics in Exeter.

Researchers are targeting professionals who work in fields with high exposure to Covid-19.

The trial is recruiting care and healthcare workers
The trial is recruiting care and healthcare workers (Peter Byrne/PA)

Prof Campbell added: “People on the Covid-19 front line, including healthcare workers and care home workers, are particularly vulnerable to coronavirus infection.

“Up until now, care home workers have been overlooked by most research.

“The trial provides us with a great opportunity to offer potential help to this important group of individuals who are providing healthcare to some of our most vulnerable citizens in important community settings.

“I’d really encourage care home staff to join us, to help us find out if the BCG vaccine might provide a safe, widely available and cost-effective way to reduce the risk of Covid-19.”

– To find out about the trial visit https://www.exeter.ac.uk/brace

Could The Live Flu Vaccine Help You Fight Off COVID-19?

Could The Live Flu Vaccine Help You Fight Off COVID-19?

  • October 8, 2020

In case you were still procrastinating getting a flu shot this year, here’s another reason to make it a priority.

There’s a chance the vaccine could offer some protection against COVID-19 itself, says virologist Robert Gallo, who directs the Institute of Human Virology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and is chairman of the Global Virus Network.

The key is getting the right flu vaccine, says Gallo, who was one of the main scientists credited with discovering HIV. “The vaccine has to have a live virus in it. The virus is attenuated so it doesn’t cause disease, but otherwise the virus is alive.”

A live virus may sound a bit terrifying, but it’s a standard way to make safe and effective vaccines. In fact, you’ve probably already had a few “live, attenuated” vaccines in your lifetime, such as the measles vaccine or oral polio vaccine.

Now scientists are just beginning to learn that these vaccines may offer some unexpected advantages to the immune system.

When developing a vaccine, scientists have a few strategies to try. They can take a piece or component of the bacteria and use that to trigger an immune response in a person. They can kill the pathogen and use its corpse as the vaccine. Or they can take a live pathogen and weaken it in the lab.

The latter are called “live, attenuated vaccines,” and over the past century, scientists have noticed something peculiar about these vaccines: They seem to offer some protection, not just from the targeted disease, but also against many different diseases, including respiratory infections.

“There’s plenty of evidence for it,” Gallo says.”The weakness is we don’t really know the longevity [of the protection]. It will probably work only for months, but we can’t say for sure.”

Take for instance, the vaccine for tuberculosis. It’s called bacille Calmette-Guerin, or BCG, and it contains a live, but weakened, strain of TB from cows.

When doctors in Sweden first started using BCG back in the 1920s, they noticed the vaccine not only reduced a child’s risk from dying of TB, but that children who got it had a mortality rate from all causes that was almost three times lower than unvaccinated children. Since the 1970s, scientists in West Africa have documented a similar pattern with both the BCG vaccine but also the live measles vaccine. In other words, they were doing something to boost the immune system’s response to many kinds of pathogens.

Recently, doctors in the Netherlands directly tested the BCG vaccine against a placebo, to see if it could help volunteers fight off a weakened form of yellow fever. The conclusion? People who received the BCG vaccine mounted a stronger immune response against the virus and cleared out the virus more effectively than those who received the placebo, the study reported.

It’s not just BCG that seems to have this effect. There’s growing evidence that any live vaccines can offer some broad, nonspecific protection, including the oral polio vaccine, measles and the live flu vaccine.

Scientists have had a hard time believing the evidence because the idea goes against the way they thought vaccines work, says immunologist Zhou Xing at McMasters University in Ontario: “It’s a new concept that has emerged in the field of immunology over the past five to 10 years or so.”

In general, vaccines work by tricking the body to produce antibodies. These molecules are very specific. They typically target and neutralize only one type of infection.

Live vaccines also work through antibodies, but they likely do something else, as well. They supercharge our body’s frontline defenders — the cells that first recognize an invader and try to clear it out before the infection gets out of control, Zhou says. Specifically, scientists think live vaccines epigenetically reprogram immune cells in the bone marrow, called myeloid cells.

Unlike antibodies, myeloid cells are nonspecific — they work on many types of invaders. And they work quickly, when the virus first enters a person’s body.

Now the big question is: Will live vaccines help a person clear out the coronavirus from their body before they get sick or before the infection becomes severe?

To figure that out, scientists around the world are currently running more than a dozen clinical trials with both BCG and the live polio vaccine to see if they offer some protection against the virus that causes COVID-19.

No one believes the protection will be as strong — or as long-lived — as that provided by a specific COVID-19 vaccine, says Dr. Moshe Arditi, who leads one of the trials at Cedars Sinai in Los Angeles.

But he says, the BCG vaccine has several advantages to a specific vaccine. It’s cheap. A dose only costs a few dollars. And we already know it’s safe. “More than 130 million kids every year — every year — receive the BCG vaccine so the safety profile has been very strong,” Arditi says.

So the BCG vaccine could be approved — and available — by early next year, he says. “It could be a bridge until we have a safe, effective COVID-19 vaccine.”

In the meantime, virologist Robert Gallo says, why not go get the live flu vaccine, if you can?

This year, the flu vaccine comes in two major forms: a shot or a nasal spray. The shot, which is approved for people all above age six months (who don’t have contraindications), contains an inactivated virus or components of the virus. The nasal spray (FluMist), which is approved for people ages 2 to 49, contains live, attenuated flu viruses.

“You watch,” Gallo says. “People who get the live flu vaccine will also be protected against the COVID-19. That’s the hypothesis.”

And, no matter what, even if you get a vaccine, you should still exercise all the same cautious you would otherwise: Wear a mask, keep your distance, wash your hands and avoid large, indoor gatherings.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.
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