Reimagining Immunity and Immune System during COVID-19 Pandemic

Reimagining Immunity and Immune System during COVID-19 Pandemic

/ Guest Column / Saturday, 12 September 2020 18:35

By Salvia Thounaojam
Assistant Professor,
Sikkim Professional University, Gangtok, Sikkim

The most talked about topic nowadays is “Immunity and Immune system”. In order to protect ourselves from any type of infections including COVID-19, we need to strengthen the immune system. So one need to reimagine and understand the term immune system and immunity. ‘Immunity’ can be simply described as the capability of a person to protect his/her own body from infection and ‘Immune system’ is the parts or components in our body like special cells, proteins, tissues and organs that protect against infections. Immunity plays a major role in prevention of infectious diseases. Immunity can be broadly classified into two that is the innate immunity and acquired or adaptive immunity. Innate immunity is the immune resistance or response which a person possesses by birth. It is the first immunological mechanism for fighting against any microorganism causing infection. It is a rapid immune response, initiated within minutes or hours after aggression. Our body cells commonly known as the white blood cells (WBCs) like neutrophils, basophils, eosinophils, monocytes and also natural killer cells, mass cells etc. are involved in this mechanism. Such type of immune response varies depending upon their species, races and even among different individuals. Examples like Bacillus anthracis infects humans but not chickens, tuberculosis are more common among American blacks than whites, as well as some individuals are more prone to common cold or viral flu while some resist or get cured in 1-2 days. There are several factors which influence the innate immunity; most important are the age, hormones and nutrition. Thus, it is said that children, old age and people afflicted with complicated diseases are more vulnerable to microbial infections. Acquired or adaptive immunity is the resistance acquired by a person during his day to day life either by repetitive minor infections or vaccination. Adaptive immunity, on the other hand, is specific to infection causing agent; it has the capacity for long term memory by the body defence system, which enables the host to mount a more rapid and efficient immune response upon subsequent exposure to the antigen or the foreign body causing the type of infection. As an example, it is like the special army forces that have been trained to defend the enemy entering the territory. The main component of the adaptive immunity is the T-cells also called T-lymphocytes, of which the antibodies are generated during the mechanism which kills the foreign body upon re-exposure. Now coming on how to improve this immune system?? The World Health Organization (WHO) has indicated that a “healthy diet,” rich in fruit and therefore vitamins (especially Vitamin C), are immune booster. This is particularly important aspect at a time when vaccine hesitancy is becoming a major threat to global health. The “immune boosters” includes food with various vitamins and minerals (cereals, legumes, mushrooms, green leafy vegetables) mainly vitamin C (orange, lemon, tomato, mint) and vitamin D (egg, fish, meat) with exposure to sunlight, antioxidants (garlic, onion, ginger, pepper, green tea etc.) Apart from this, healthy life style with nutritious food, hygienic habits, exercise and yoga, maintaining good emotional and mental health with adequate sleep is also essential. Some of the vegetables/food items with immune boosting potential include Roselle plant (Hibiscus sabdariffa), Schizophyllum commune (a type of mushroom known as kanglayen), fermented soya bean (Glycine max) etc. Apart from these the high value caterpillar fungus, “Yartsa gunbu” (Cordyceps sinensis, Synonym: Ophiocordyceps sinensis) also possessed potential immune boosting capability. There are reports that the value of the fungi received a sharp increase following the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak in China in 2003. Another important type of immunity is the ‘Herd immunity’. This can also be called as herd protection as it provides indirect protection to those individuals who are not exposed to the infection when a large population are already immune to the infectious disease. For example out of 100 people in a community if 80 individuals are already infected then 4 out of 5 who come in contact with the virus will not get infected because they already have acquired the antibodies indirectly further stopping the virus from spreading. Hence, in a developing country like India where the population is more than 130 crore, there can be high chances of development of herd immunity in the community as many experts tout it as one of the two possible solutions for viral infections like coronavirus. The other one is introduction of vaccine. So our immune system plays a major role in fighting against several infectious diseases similar to the current pandemic of COVID -19. It is also needed to follow social distancing norms, personal hygiene and adorn with protectives so as to stay safe from infection.
(The views expressed are the writer’s own)

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