How COVID-19 attacks the body and why it impacts some more than others

Medical Watch
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CHICAGO — The way COVID-19 attacks the body may be the key to surviving it and sheds light on why it impacts some more than others.

While many of us wait for warmer weather to cheer us up and give us a chance to get outside to improve our mental health — it doesn’t dramatically slow COVID-19.

Droplets in the air or on surfaces are introduced into the body through the mouth, nose or eyes — either from your own hands after touching an infected surface or when someone coughs or sneezes near you.

Once inside, the virus takes upon residence in the lungs. The body raises it’s temperature to fever levels to try and wage war on the invading virus. Then mast cells are released from the respiratory tract — the nasal passageway and linings of the lungs.

When the mast cells come to the battle line face-to-face with the virus, it triggers an even greater immune response — releasing more troops in the form of inflammatory chemicals. The inflammation causes breathing difficulties, but the chemicals that cause it are critical to defeating the virus.

“The inflammatory response is like an alarm system and when you feel symptoms you know your body is responding to something. And this particular virus seems to make you very sick at least in certain populations, by the time you have an inflammatory response you’re already pretty sick,” explained Dr. William Muller, an infectious disease expert at Lurie Children’s.

That process works different in everyone — depending on their immune function, their age and prior illness.

But a new study reveals a common, over the counter medication we often pull from the medicine cabinet to make us feel better, may hamper the our body’s own virus-fighting process.

Despite the pain-relieving potential of anti-inflammatories — like Advil — the non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs also depress our immune system.

For most illnesses, that is of little concern. But we need our immune system in top shape to fight COVID-19 and win.

France’s health minister warned French citizens that acetaminophen (like Tylenol) is not an anti-inflammatory and can be used as an alternative for pain relief.

“This receptor that the virus needs to get into the cells and this is to receptor the amount of it that’s on the surface of the cell seems to be influenced by drugs like ibuprofen. And maybe it’s increased by things like ibuprofen and that allows more virus to get in,” said Dr. Muller.

It is still unknown if — once defeated — the body builds up an immunity to COVID-19.

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