New Delhi: Immunologists have unfortunately taken a backseat during this coronavirus crisis, despite the fact that the immune system has the most important role in determining the outcome of the Covid-19 infection, ThePrint’s Editor-in-Chief Shekhar Gupta said in episode 522 of ‘Cut The Clutter’.
Instead, the headlines have mostly been taken over by epidemiologists who have not been able to understand the virus well, and predicted that millions will die based on mathematical models, added Gupta.
In an article, biologist Beda M. Stadler, former director of the Institute for Immunology at the University of Bern in Switzerland, criticises his colleagues in immunology for letting epidemiologists hijack the discussion around Covid-19 for so long.
“I am not qualified to question anybody’s science. But I am a journalist trained enough to see when somebody is headline-hunting. I noticed early enough that epidemiologists were headline hunting and they are now discredited,” Gupta said.
Nothing ‘novel’ about Covid-19: Bede Stadler
Gupta pointed out that most epidemiologists had not understood the virus correctly, and instead had made wild claims predicting that millions are likely to die worldwide. However, such projections have been proven wrong.
In his article, Stadler said that it was wrong to claim that this virus was ‘novel’. He also noted that it was wrong to claim that the population would not already have some immunity against this virus, and that “someone could have Covid-19 without any symptoms at all or even to pass the disease along without showing any symptoms whatsoever”.
The Swiss biologist goes on to note that the SARS-CoV-2 is very strongly related to the SARS virus that caused an epidemic in 2003, and instead of focusing on understanding how far these two strains are related, the conversation was stuck around the ‘Chinese menu’ for far too long.
Stadler pointed out that the studies now show that the so-called ‘novel’ coronavirus was strongly related to previously known strains of coronaviruses as well as beta coronaviruses that cause common colds.
He also trashed the idea that there are some people who are infected with Covid-19 who show no symptoms, and that such people could further transmit the disease.
He says that ‘immunity deniers’ somehow refuse to believe in the idea that people of different ages have active immune systems that can fight off the ‘novel’ virus without getting infected. Instead, these ‘immunity deniers’ believe that people can be sick without symptoms.
Stadler claimed that the current RT-PCR tests — the standard test to detect presence of Covid-19 infection — cannot distinguish between live or dead virus and simply picks up the genetic material of the strain.
Even if the body’s immune system was successful in fighting the virus off, the tests would still show the person as Covid-19-positive, even though the person did not actually fall sick, he notes.
“It is likely that a large number of the daily reported infection numbers are purely due to viral debris,” wrote Stadler.
He also explained that any person who is sick with the virus will experience some type of a symptom, even if it is something as innocuous as a scratchy throat.
The article also noted that if an infected person does not have enough antibodies or has a weak immune response, the virus slowly spreads across the entire body.
“Now that there are not enough antibodies, there is only the second, supporting leg of our immune response left: The T-cells begin to attack the virus-infested cells all over the body,” he added.
“This can lead to an exaggerated immune response, basically a massive slaughter; this is called a cytokine storm,” Stadler said.
Listen to immunologists
According to Gupta, “This disease is caused by a virus, but what causes damage to our lungs, kidneys, our blood vessels, and brains, is our immune system.”
“Our immune system plays a very strong role (in Covid-19). That’s why it’s important that we listen to immunologists,” he added.
Gupta pointed out that some of the drugs that are being trialled to fight Covid-19 are the ones that actually act against the immune system, rather than the virus itself.
Dexamethasone — a drug used against rheumatic problems, a number of skin diseases, severe allergies and among other conditions — helps dampen the overactive immune system. Similarly, drugs like itolizumab and tocilizumab also work against certain markers of the immune system.
Meanwhile, despite all the controversies around the use of anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine (HCQ), a fresh study on more than 2,500 patients in the US shows that HCQ reduces Covid-19 mortality significantly, if administered early.
HCQ is also a drug that dampens an overactive immune system.
“There are no absolutes in science, least of all in medical science. Don’t reject any ideas based on limited science, just because the results do not fit with your politics,” Gupta said.
The virus is not political, it teaches a lesson to everyone with an ego, he added.
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