Stepping Inside

The news, the news, the news. I’m finding it hard to look away today. The pandemic news is getting scary again.

To be honest, having a biologist’s training, I have always had one eye focused on herd immunity. Even when it was a dirty word. This was since it became obvious at the beginning of the pandemic that the virus wasn’t just going to disappear.

I’ve been awaiting the news on antibody production. The data on the protective value of prior exposure. Numbers add up. But along the way, something didn’t sit right. Doctors wrote of potential re-infection. Scientists found a lack of antibodies after infection. Still, viruses can evolve I thought – and humans’ immune systems evolve right along with them. Two can play that game.

Something niggled me though. Of course, no one fully understands this virus right now. Some people are getting very sick. Some aren’t. Some people develop long-lasting antibodies. Others’ seemingly disappear. How and what does this virus do to trick our bodies I wondered? Cytokine storms and the like. Does this virus hide in the body, always one step ahead of the immune system, as is the case with the HIV virus?

Today, I learned a bit more. I read how herd immunity may not actually develop – not fully anyhow. And not necessarily because the virus is hiding in the body. It’s because immune-wise, it seems our bodies are treating this virus the same as when we catch a cold. Why? Because it’s the same virus as the cold. Of course! Duh. The penny just dropped for me.

There are at least four known coronaviruses – that cause the common cold. And as standard practice, our immune systems don’t keep antibodies to the common cold for long. We get it, we deal with it, we produce antibodies for a little while and then the antibodies go out of circulation. Cold over.

This strain of coronavirus, Covid-19 seems to be producing the same reaction – except that it affects us differently. People who have a more severe reaction and recover, are producing more antibodies. People who present mild symptoms have a corresponding low number of antibodies.

We know that people have different reactions when exposed to the common cold too. We deal with the cold largely by killing it with our T cells. These are our immune brawlers. They don’t keep a record of the virus like our B cells do – the traditional antibody-learned reaction.

This information has just ramped up the bizarre for me. It seems we are a fighting a pandemic right now, hoping for herd immunity, even banking for a vaccine for a virus which also causes the common cold. Our bodies are treating it like the cold. This is not viral trickery. This is bodily history.

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