Dr KK Aggarwal December 14, 2020
With input from Dr Monica Vasudev
Advancing age and underlying medical problems explain only part of the phenomenon.
Some people, especially men, succumb because their immune systems are hit by friendly fire.
A study in Science revealed that 10% of around 1,000 COVID patients who developed life-threatening pneumonia had antibodies that disable interferons. These autoantibodies were not found in 663 people with mild or asymptomatic COVID infections. Only four of 1,227 healthy individuals were found to have the autoantibodies.
In a second study by the same team, it was noted that an additional 3.5% of critically ill patients had mutations in genes that control the interferons involved in fighting viruses. The body has 500 to 600 of these genes, therefore, it seems possible that researchers will find more mutations, said lead author of the second study.
Interferons are the bodys first line of defense against infection.
They are a fire alarm and a sprinkler system all in one.
Laboratory studies suggest that interferons are suppressed in some people with COVID-19, probably by the virus itself.
Interferons are vital for protecting the body against new viruses, such as the coronavirus, which the body has never encountered.
When infected with the novel coronavirus, the body should have alarms ringing. If the alarm doesn’t get out, you could have viruses everywhere in large numbers.
Patients didnt make autoantibodies in response to the virus. It appeared that they had them before the pandemic began. These autoantibodies never caused a problem until patients were infected with COVID-19. Somehow, the novel coronavirus, or the immune response it triggered, seems to have set them in motion.
It is not known whether autoantibodies against interferon also increase the risk from other viruses, such as influenza.
Furthermore, 94% of patients in the study with these autoantibodies were men. About 12.5% of men with life-threatening COVID pneumonia had autoantibodies against interferon, compared to 2.6% of women.