How Previous Exposure to Disease May Help us in the Fight Against COVID-19

Charles Corfield, President & CEO, nVoqHealthcare Leave a Comment

nVoq’s CEO, Charles Corfield, delves into the hypothesis of our declining immune systems and how that could be a factor in the rise of COVID-19 cases. This is our thirteenth installment of Charles’ thoughts around the current pandemic. Check back next week for our next blog from Charles.

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Charles Corfield, President & CEO, nVoq

Recently on the COVID-19 front, you have probably noticed the uptick in cases across the sunbelt states; conversely the northeastern states have experienced declines. Colorado, which has both rural areas and a densely populated urban corridor has seen an uptick in cases, but not a proportional uptick in hospitalizations or deaths. One summary view, is that whether by design, or accident, the U.S. has chosen the path of herd-immunity, and perhaps the interesting question is which will come first: availability of an effective vaccine or functional herd-immunity?

If you have a family member with asthma, you have probably come across the "hygiene hypothesis", which posits that the rise in asthma cases over the last few decades is a result of a decline in pathogen exposure during childhood, which would otherwise keep the immune system busy. The devil makes work for idle hands, and an immune system with too little to do, finds other outlets for its pugilistic talents, and begins to pick fights in its own backyard. 

Researchers in India wondered if there might be an analogous effect visible in the epidemiology statistics for COVID-19. They looked at reported "deaths per million"  in countries around the world and compared these with a couple of dozen health and welfare indices, such as GNP/person, incidence of auto-immune diseases, incidence of communicable diseases and parasites, sanitation, and so on. The picture which emerged was that populations which have greater exposure to disease and parasites have lower death rates (from COVID-19) than populations which live in more sanitary conditions.

In other words, their findings are consistent with a hypothesis that "well trained immune systems" are better equipped to handle COVID-19. In spite of the fact that COVID-19 is a novel pathogen. Their observations are consistent with a U.S. study which noted a 28% decline in COVID-19 fatalities for each 10% increase in flu vaccination rates (in the U.S.). While a flu shot is not a vaccine against COVID-19, it nevertheless seems to confer some amount of protection. As noted in a previous blog, parts of the US will be embarking on a medical experiment in the upcoming school year. Measure put in place, which are designed to inhibit the transmission of COVID-19, will also inhibit the transmission of the four common cold corona viruses. Exposure seems to confer protection (against COVID-19) on school age children. If that is true, then, we should expect to see an uptick in serious cases of COVID-19 in school-age children, who, thus far, have missed the worst of the scourge. 

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