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Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Covid-19: Common cold may give some protection, study suggests


Natural defences against a common cold could offer some protection against Covid-19, too, research suggests.

The small-scale study, published in Nature Communications, involved 52 individuals who lived with someone who had just caught Covid-19.

Those who developed a “memory bank” of specific immune cells after a cold to aid in the prevention of future attacks appeared to be less likely to contract Covid.

Experts say that no one should rely solely on this defence, and that vaccines remain essential.

They believe, however, that their findings may provide useful insight into how the body’s defence system combats the virus.

Because Covid-19 is caused by a type of coronavirus, and some colds are caused by other coronaviruses, scientists have wondered if immunity to one might help with the other.

However, experts warn that it would be a “grave mistake” to believe that anyone who had recently had a cold was automatically immune to Covid-19, as not all colds are caused by coronaviruses.

The Imperial College London researchers wanted to learn more about why some people get Covid after being exposed to the virus while others do not.

‘New vaccine approach’

They concentrated their research on T-cells, which are an important component of the body’s immune system.

Some of these T-cells are capable of killing any cells infected with a specific threat, such as a cold virus.

And, once the cold has passed, some T-cells remain in the body as a memory bank, ready to mount a defence the next time the virus is encountered.

Researchers studied 52 people who had not yet been vaccinated but lived with people who had recently tested positive for Covid-19 in September 2020.

During the 28-day study period, half of the participants received Covid, while the other half did not.

A third of those who did not contract Covid had high levels of specific memory T-cells in their blood.

These were most likely created when the body was infected with another closely related human coronavirus – most commonly, a common cold, according to the researchers.

Researchers believe that other factors, such as ventilation and how infectious their household contact was, would have an effect on whether or not people caught the virus.

Although this was a small study, Dr Simon Clarke of the University of Reading said it added to our understanding of how our immune system fights the virus and could help with future vaccines.

“These data should not be over-interpreted,” he added. It appears unlikely that everyone who has died or had a more serious infection has never had a coronavirus-caused cold.

“It would also be a grave mistake to believe that anyone who has recently had a cold is immune to Covid-19, as coronaviruses only account for 10-15% of colds.”

Professor Ajit Lalvani, the study’s senior author, agreed that vaccines were critical to protection.

“Learning from what the body does well could help inform the design of new vaccines,” he added.

Current vaccines specifically target spike proteins on the virus’s surface, but those spike proteins can change as new variants emerge.

However, the body’s T-cells target internal virus proteins, which do not vary as much from variant to variant, implying that vaccines that more closely mimic the work of T-cells could provide broader, longer-lasting protection against Covid, he said.


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