Scientists have discovered that patients who have recovered from a severe lung infection are developing "immunological scars" that hinder the body's immune response.
So what does that mean? Well, studies in both humans and mice have shown that the body's immune response is temporarily switched off after it has dealt with severe infections. This means that after a patient has recovered from an infection, they are more susceptible to contracting another one due to their first line of immune defense being 'off'.
A team of researchers from the University of Melbourne's Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity and the University Hospital of Nantes found that the first line of the immune system's defence is comprised of cells called macrophages and that these cells were "paralyzed" after a severe infection. The researchers found that after the macrophages have taken care of an immediate threat, they become deactivated, leaving the patient at a greater chance of contracting a secondary infection such as pneumonia.
Luckily, researchers were also able to identify the "switch" that brings the macrophages back to life, that switch is a receptor called SIRP-alpha.
Jose Villadangos from the Peter Doherty Institute said, "We believe an alternative approach is to recharge the immune system to take it out of its paralysed state, or to prevent paralysis in the first place, so that patients will be able to protect themselves against secondary infections without resorting to antibiotics."
This research, and more specifically on the receptor SIRP-alpha, is expected to have big implications on how doctors and healthcare workers treat COVID-19 patients. This is because a large percentage of them die from cytokine-storm, which is when the body's own immune system overreacts to the infection, and causes fatal inflammation.
Antoine Roquilly, from the University Hospital of Nantes, said that if scientists can understand the SIRP-alpha receptor more, they "may prevent the storm from occurring and improve the survival of these patients".
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