This Is Why You Could Be Prone to a Severe Case of COVID, New Study Says

New Stanford research shines a light on how the immune system works in those with severe coronavirus.

The coronavirus doesn't affect everyone the same way. Some people get infected and end up with no symptoms at all, while others tragically end up becoming another addition to the growing 732,000 global COVID-19 death toll. While we know that some people are deemed higher risk for COVID complications due to age and underlying medical conditions, one of the biggest questions amid the pandemic has been why does the coronavirus affect seemingly healthy people so differently. After all, even if you aren't in a higher risk category, you could still experience a severe case of COVID. Now, a new Stanford University School of Medicine study shows that you could be more prone to a severe case of COVID if your immune cells work slower than normal.

The study, which was published on Aug. 11 in the journal Science, observed the immune response of 76 people infected with COVID-19 and 69 healthy people from both Hong Kong and Atlanta, Georgia. They found that those with the worst cases of COVID had immune cells that were slower and less effective in responding to the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

The natural immune response in all people is to rapidly sense a virus and launch an immediate attack against it. However, the new Stanford study found that immune cells in those who experienced severe cases of COVID were actually quite sluggish, and less immediate in their attack.

"These findings reveal how the immune system goes awry during coronavirus infections, leading to severe disease, and point to potential therapeutic targets," Bali Pulendran, PhD, senior author of the study, said in a statement.

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The study also found that increased inflammation plays a part in suppressing the immune response, as well. The researchers found higher levels of bacterial debris in the blood of severe COVID patients, and that debris seemingly makes its way into the bloodstream of these patients, activating inflammation.

Researchers also found higher levels of inflammation-promoting molecules in the blood of severe COVID-19 patients. Three of these molecules—EN-RAGE, TNFSF14, and OSM—have typically been responsible for lung inflammation in other diseases, but this study is the first to show them in COVID-19 infections.

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"One of the great mysteries of COVID-19 infections has been that some people develop severe disease, while others seem to recover quickly," Pulendran said in a statement. "Now we have some insights into why that happens." And for more on the different cases of coronavirus, check out This Is Why Some People Don't Have COVID Symptoms, New Study Shows.

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