SARS-CoV-2 or the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 is the causative agent of the current COVID-19 pandemic. According to Wikipedia, “It was first identified in December 2019 in Wuhan, the capital of China’s Hubei province, and has since spread globally, resulting in an ongoing pandemic. The very first case of this virus was reported back in December 2019”.
Unfortunately, the disease seems to have spread quickly to many countries now leaving millions infected and thousands dead. The sad part is, not much is known about the behaviour of this novel virus and hence the treatment options are few although research is being carried out frantically by most nations to figure things out. Therefore, it is imperative to pep up the investigations concerning the virology of SARS-CoV-2 with an insight into the necessary biological and immunological processes underlying the clinical expressions of COVID-19 for identification and comprehensive designing of effective therapies.
As the virus itself is new, it is logical to expect our immune systems to be caught unawares as to how to fight this intruder. Unfortunately for now, the only best option available for all those millions infected worldwide is the ability of their immune systems to tackle the culprit as there are no sure-shot drugs or vaccines available. Of course, this might sound a little scary but undoubtedly, a strong immune system would be successful enough to either ward off the infection on the whole or at least might be able to get away with very mild illness. The funny part again is that the response of the immune system is pretty much unpredictable and varies amongst individuals. This makes it hard to identify how and when to infringe when it’s overwhelmed.
It is thus very central to understand exactly how the immune system wrestles the disease if we propose to slow it down. There are these particular cells in our body known as Lymphocytes which are nothing but the white blood cells that are crucial to our immune systems. There are three main types known as T cells, B cells and natural killer cells. Lymphocytes are part of our immune defense and aid in identifying antigens. They then produce antibodies which destroy the antigens. T cells, sub-divided into CD4 and CD8 cells aim at recognising the foreign cells or the antigens which are then presented to the B cells which kill them. The B cells make antibodies that target sick cells and eradicate them from the body. The antibodies thus produced stick around for a long time in the body after the termination of infection to evade any such future invasion.
This broad background can help us comprehend a common feature of COVID-19. Most people who caught COVID-19 fell sick in two phases. First, they felt exhausted and whacked, but then they happened to bounce back. T cells play a central role in the immune response and hence once they kick in, people start feeling better.
Now this transitory recovery can deliver a false sense of retreat of the infection. T-cells may be able to keep the virus away for a short period, but if the infection continues, the body will need to make more antibodies to fight it. When this happens, the immune system will release cytokines that kick-start a fever to get rid of the virus. Regrettably, all that heat and inflammation can prove to be tough on the vital organs, especially in those with underlying co-morbidities.
In all honesty, there’s so much we still don’t know about the way the immune system functions. T cells apparently tend to grow weaker with age. Moreover, to what extent can the B cells be able to create SARS-CoV-2-specific antibodies and what number of antibodies would incite the required immune reaction, and for how long would they be able to stay around to significantly fight any upcoming infections are matters to look into.
Unraveling these details will be of utmost importance for fabricating the right tools to help the world curb the spread and limit the death toll of COVID-19. Testing, treatment options and vaccines are by far the most anticipated lookouts concerning this disease. Serology testing, plasma therapy and drugs like Hydroxy Chloroquine (HCQ) and Remdesivir are being tried while many nations are on the way with their trials of vaccines. All in all, it will take some time before the exact line of treatment for this COVID-19 pandemic is finalised.