Scientists have discovered a link between certain malfunctioning aspects of COVID-infected patients and exhibition of severe symptoms and effects of the virus. Researchers from Yale University in Connecticut examined 113 cases at the Yale-New Haven Hospital, and analysed their varying immune responses during their stay, from admission till discharge (or demise, in some cases).
The study found that all patients admitted exhibited a common COVID-19 signature in their immune responses, in the early stages of the disease. However, there was a distinct difference in disease progression depending on the severity of the symptoms and their immune responses. Those who showed none-to-moderate symptoms had reduced immune system activity, as well as reduced virus levels over time. Only those who went on to develop severe symptoms of the disease showed little to no decrease in viral counts, or in their immune responses. In fact, researchers found that many of their immune signals were heightened or accelerated.
Researchers also found factors which acted as predictors of severe cases in the future, such as high alpha-interferon levels. Alpha interferon (IFN-alpha 1) is mobilised by the immune system to detect viral infections and to inhibit viral multiplication in infected cells. But, in course of the study, it was discovered that subjects with higher IFN-alpha 1 levels fared worse in the long run than their low IFN-alpha 1 level counterparts i.e. the chemical that is supposed to help is actually hurting the body’s fight against the virus.
Another bearer of future bad news is the activation of a particular complex protein compound. Its function is to detect foreign invaders and trigger an inflammatory response, but that inflammatory response has been linked to poor outcomes and death in many of the subjects under observation.
There are definitely certain features linked to surviving the infection with minimum complications. For instance, people with high levels of growth factors have been observed to respond better to the infection. Growth factors help to repair tissue damage to the linings of blood vessels and lungs.
This data will come in handy to be able to predict patients’ risk levels of severe cases of COVID-19 on the bases of the levels of their immune responses, possibly before they’re even infected. Drugs that target the specific causes of inflammation identified in the study could help treat high-risk patients.