Immune system, COVID 19 infection, and building up immunity - By Dr Edward Nazareth















By Dr Edward Nazareth

Jun 9: During our school days, most of us had learnt in biology classes that we have a cardiovascular system, a respiratory system, a digestive system, a reproductive system and a nervous system but had not learnt about the immune system. With COVID 19 infection spreading everywhere, a lot of discussion about the immune system is going on. People with a good immune system are unlikely to get the disease and those with a poor immune system may be unlucky to get a fatal version of the disease from the same virus. Meanwhile there are a lot of promotions for immune boosters, which are supposed to make our immune system strong. It is worthwhile to understand the basics of the immune system and learn how to make it strong naturally.

Military of the body

The immune system is a defense system of body. It can be compared to the military of any nation. Each nation’s military system is unique, it has its own mechanisms to identify the enemy, remember who its enemy is and, fight to protect the nation from any attack. Every individual’s immune system is unique and works similarly.

In general, the immune system is made up of special organs, cells and chemicals that fight infection (microbes) and the toxins that may be produced by them. The main parts of the immune system are: white blood cells, antibodies, the complement system, the lymphatic system, the spleen, the thymus, and the bone marrow. These are the parts of the immune system that actively fight infection. These different systems and cell types work in perfect synchrony (most of the time) throughout the body to fight off pathogens and clear up dead cells. However the front line soldiers of this system are lymphocytes, a type of white blood cells.

Identify, destroy and remember

Our immune system has different wings similar to a military system - a surveillance wing to identify the enemy, a destroyer (fighter) wing to eliminate the enemy and an intelligence wing to remember the enemy. All these different wings are managed by lymphocytes.

Whenever a foreign material - such as bacteria, virus, fungi or any other matter with protein or, the toxins produced by these organisms enter the body, the immune system identifies it as ‘foreign’. The immune system is able to identify self from non-self. This is done by detecting the proteins that are found on the surface of the cells or by the chemicals produced by the organisms. Like the defense personnel, the immune system learns to ignore its own or self-proteins and identify the intruder. The intruder is now known as ‘antigen’. An antigen is any substance that can spark an immune response.

In many cases, an antigen is a bacterium, fungus, virus, toxin, or foreign body. But it can also be one of our own cells that are faulty or dead (like our own people turning as terrorists).

In the immune system we have two important types of white blood cells- B lymphocytes and T lymphocytes.

• The B lymphocytes spot the antigen and they begin to secrete antibodies. The antibodies are special proteins (called immunoglobulins) that lock on to specific antigens. Antibodies are the ammunition to eliminate a particular antigen. The specialty of the immune system is that it produces specific ammunition to kill a particular enemy. For example to eliminate COVID 19 viruses the antibodies produced can eliminate only COVID 19 viruses and cannot act against the viruses that produce common cold, even though both the viruses belong to the same family of corona viruses.
Antibodies lock onto the antigen, but they do not kill it, only mark it for death. (B lymphocytes arrest the enemy).
• There are three main types of T lymphocytes: Helper T cells, killer T cells and memory T cells. Helper T cells — they coordinate the immune response and stimulate B cells to produce more antibodies. Killer T cells (cytotoxic T lymphocytes) — as the name suggests, these T cells attack the antigen. They are particularly useful for fighting viruses. They work by recognizing small parts of the virus on the outside of infected cells and destroy the infected cells. The memory T cells are produced following an infection; they are antigen-specific and live long. Memory T cells are important because they can quickly respond to re-exposure to the antigen. They provide the immune system with memory against previously encountered antigens. Once an antibody has been produced, a copy remains in the body system, and should the same antigen invade again, it can be dealt with more swiftly. That is why with some diseases, such as measles or chickenpox we only get infected once as the body has the measles or the chickenpox antibodies stored, ready and waiting to destroy them next time when they attack. This is called immunity.

In COVID 19 infections it takes about two to four weeks for the human body to eliminate all the viruses by producing specific antibodies against them. Then these antibodies remain in the system and will not allow the virus to multiply in the body. But here two issues are to be understood. We are not yet sure if the antibodies will remain forever or disappear after a few months or years. Another point is the virus changes its protein component called ‘genome’ and can attack in a new form. This is exactly like terrorists who keep on changing the names of their organization, but have the same motto.

Immunization, infection and immunity

Before the advent of immunization many people used to die from infective diseases as it happens in COVID 19 infection now. Thousands of people have died due to small pox. Babies used to die due to measles, whooping cough, tetanus and similar other illnesses. The babies are now immunized using vaccines. A particular vaccine against an infective organism is produced using the same organism. The disease causing pathogens are attenuated (weakened) or part of their protein is extracted and introduced into the healthy individual. This material is termed as ‘vaccine’. Once the vaccine enters the system, it produces antibodies and when the real organism, invades the system it is eliminated. By immunization, deadly diseases like small pox have been totally eliminated and poliomyelitis is now almost removed completely.

As we are exposed to certain other organisms, we get infected and then our system develops antibodies and we remain immune thereafter. For example most of us were infected by chickenpox when we were children. As we had been infected by the chickenpox virus once, we will not get it again. In this way we build up a store house of antibodies to different pathogens. This protection from pathogens develops as we go through life. This is also referred to as immunological memory because our immune system remembers its previous enemies.

Elderly and immunity

As humans age, the immune response becomes weak, which leads to more infections. This is again comparable to a nation with a weak military system which can be attacked and defeated easily. It is a known fact that compared with younger people, the elderly are more likely to contract infectious diseases and, more likely to die from them. Respiratory infections, influenza and the COVID 19 causes pneumonia which are a leading cause of death in people over the age of 65 worldwide. It is now known that this increased risk correlates with a decrease in T cells, because as we age fewer T cells are produced to fight off infection. It is believed that the bone marrow becomes less efficient at producing stem cells that give rise to the cells of the immune system.

Immune deficiency

In some individuals the immune system may be weak. The most common causes for deficiency of immunity worldwide include malnutrition, poor sanitary conditions and human immune deficiency virus (HIV) infection. Other causes of temporary or permanent damage to the immune system include old age, medications (e.g. cortisone, cytostatic drugs used to treat malignancies), radiotherapy, stress after surgery and malignant tumors of the bone marrow and the lymph nodes. Innate deficiencies of the immune system are comparatively rare.

This is the reason people with these diseases, probably with deficient immune system are required to be cautious of contracting the COVID 19 infection. If they are infected, their immune system may not be able to eliminate the virus and they might get severe illness.

Herd immunity

When most of the members of a community are immune to an infectious disease, it is known as herd immunity (also called herd protection). For example, if 80% of people in a community are immune to COVID 19 virus, eight out of every ten people who get infected will not become sick from the disease. In this way, the spread of infectious diseases is kept under control. Depending on how contagious an infection is, usually 70% to 90% of a population needs immunity to achieve herd immunity.

Small pox, measles, mumps and polio are examples of infectious diseases that were once very common but are now rare in our region because vaccines helped to establish herd immunity. For infections without a vaccine, even if many adults have developed immunity because of prior infection, the disease can still circulate among children and can still infect those with weakened immune systems. Chickenpox is an example for this.

Can we achieve herd immunity against COVID 19 infection? As with any other infection, there are two ways to achieve herd immunity: A large proportion of the people either gets infected or gets a protective vaccine. Based on early estimates of this virus’s infectiousness, we will likely need at least 70% of the population to be immune to have herd protection. As we do not have vaccine against COVID 19 infection now, it may take years for us to develop herd immunity for it.

Can medicines boost the immune system?

As the COVID 19 infection is spreading widely and people with good immunity are reported as unaffected, a lot of information about boosting immunity is circulated in the media.

Many products claim to boost or support immunity. But the concept of boosting immunity makes little sense scientifically. Boosting immunity actually means boosting the lymphocytes (the soldiers of immune system, as explained above). In fact, boosting the number of cells in the body — immune cells or others — is impossible. What is known is that the body is continually generating immune cells. In fact, it produces many more lymphocytes than it can possibly use. The extra cells remove themselves through a natural process of cell death called apoptosis.

As already stated above, efficacy of herbs or any substance enhancing the immunity is a highly complicated matter. There is no research supporting that any herb or substance can increase the levels of antibodies in the body.

Healthy ways to strengthen the immune system

The best way to improve the immune system is to choose a healthy life style. A healthy life style has to be followed from a young age and attempts should be made to maintain good health naturally. Immunity depends on general health and general health depends on good immunity. Every part of the body, including the immune system, functions better when protected and improved by healthy-living strategies such as these:

• Smoking has to be stopped. Smoking is bad for overall health. Many elderly who have succumbed to COVID 19 infection were chronic smokers.
• A diet high in fruits and vegetables is good for health. The deficiencies of zinc, selenium, iron, copper, folic acid, and vitamins A, B6, C, and E — alter immune responses in experimental animals. These micronutrients are commonly present in fruits and vegetables. If not possible to consume the fruits or vegetables, dietary supplements may be used.
• Regular exercise is a boost to health, it is one of the pillars of healthy living. It improves cardiovascular health, helps to control body weight, and protects against a variety of diseases. Just like a healthy diet, exercise can contribute to general good health and therefore to a healthy immune system. It may contribute even more directly by promoting good circulation, which allows the cells and substances of the immune system to move through the body freely and do their job efficiently.
• Adequate sleep is also a natural immune booster. The human body prepares and releases cytokines, a type of protein that targets infection effectively creating an immune response. It is proved that chronic deficiency of sleep reduces body’s ability to respond to infection.
• Try to reduce stress. When a person is stressed, the immune system's ability to fight off antigens is reduced. That is why humans are more susceptible to infections during stressful situations. The stress hormone corticosteroid can suppress the effectiveness of the immune system (e.g. lowers the number of lymphocytes).




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Comment on this article

  • Walter D'Souza, Pernal

    Sat, Jun 13 2020

    Excellent article and very well written in a layman's language. It's very helpful for everybody during this difficult period. Thank you doctor.

    DisAgree Agree [2] Reply Report Abuse

  • Robert Nazareth, Shirva/Borivli, Mumbai

    Thu, Jun 11 2020

    Thank you Dr Nazareth for your detailed & researched article on Covid-19. A simple way of explanation with examples is well appreciated. We are proud of you Dr Nazareth

    DisAgree Agree [3] Reply Report Abuse

  • shanker bhat, ladyhill, manglauru

    Thu, Jun 11 2020

    dr Nazareth has written in easily understandable manner. It is one thing to have knowledge; it is totally different to express it in writing in communicable form. Kudos to dr nazareth and to daijiworld. this is how one should spread awareness. thanks. keep writing.

    DisAgree [1] Agree [5] Reply Report Abuse

  • Kishore Holla, Shirva

    Wed, Jun 10 2020

    Excellent advice given at the right time. Information regarding the immune system is given with an analogy that is very easy to understand. Also it highlights the way to develop the immunity and cautions us against the daily dose of false advertisements. The modern age has completely changed our lifestyle and we have started eating wrong things in wrong quantity at wrong time. Added to that we hardly do any physical exercises. The most important is that we are dragged in to an unnecessary race which is the main cause of the stress. Damage to the environment and the pollution is a dimension which is not in our control but it definitely adds up. So as doctor prescribed we need to go back in time. Eat what we used to do earlier (simple timely meal), do lot of exercises, jump out of the mad race, be happy, be helpful, think about others and help if possible, pray more often.
    Thank you Doctor.

    DisAgree Agree [6] Reply Report Abuse

  • Donald Roche, Mangaluru Ruzai

    Wed, Jun 10 2020

    Dear Dr. Nazareth, Good informatve article. Than you.
    The best strategy is to prevent exposure t5o the virus in the first place.
    Even A strong Immune system isn't FOOLPROOF . Made of a strand of genetic material, viruses are so simple that they aren't even considered living things Yet they can t4igger illness, from the common cold to life threatening illnesses, fro9m the common cold to life threatening COVID19 virus .by overtaking the genetic machinery of cells within the body. once in command, they direct those cells to9 produce more viruses, which if not stopped, can over whelm vital organs.
    The most remarkable characteristi8c of the immune system is its 'memory' for foreign substances and organisms. Confronted with a virus or other invading organism., the system creats an antibody that will recognize it and mount an attack against it at any future encounter. This mechanism, called acquired immunity, is what makes VACCINATIONS work. So let us keep social distance and wear mask.

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  • JP Mendonca, Sooda/Bangalore

    Wed, Jun 10 2020

    indepth analysis with dedicated,passionate,and purposeful article. The Doctor must have done extensive research on the subject. We thank you very much for enlightening us.

    DisAgree [1] Agree [7] Reply Report Abuse

  • Janet Menezes, Shirva/NZ

    Wed, Jun 10 2020

    Thank you Dr. Edward. Very informative write up.

    DisAgree [1] Agree [6] Reply Report Abuse

  • Dr. Austin Prabhu, Nantur/Chicago

    Tue, Jun 09 2020

    Good knowledgeable article from Dr. Edward Nazareth! This information keeps your life on right track. Stay Home, Stay Safe! DO NOT go to Temple, Mosque, Synagogue or Church for a while. Virus is growing in India; be serious and maintain social distancing until Diwali or Christmas.

    DisAgree [4] Agree [7] Reply Report Abuse

  • Jaddugadde Ravindra, Tirthahalli/UK

    Tue, Jun 09 2020

    Excellent article explained in a very palatable way. Thank you Dr. Edward Nazareth

    DisAgree Agree [16] Reply Report Abuse

  • Francis, Shirva/Uk

    Tue, Jun 09 2020

    This is the beauty of Dr Nazareth writing, once again well explained article in simple way.

    DisAgree [2] Agree [22] Reply Report Abuse

  • Valson Mendonsa, Mangalore/USA

    Tue, Jun 09 2020

    Very good article from Dr. Edward. 80% diseases are preventable & within the control of human being… after all… 'Health is Wealth' that all we believe.
    Thank you Dr.

    DisAgree [4] Agree [23] Reply Report Abuse

  • anthony, Mangalore

    Tue, Jun 09 2020

    Thank you Doctor for yet another enlightrning article on the Immunity Sytem and Building of immunity. God Bless you and family.

    Doctor is there any natural remedies to increase our B and T Cells.

    DisAgree [2] Agree [17] Reply Report Abuse

  • Naveen, Mangalore

    Tue, Jun 09 2020

    Thank you again for an informative article. Well constructed in a structured manner. Although from a technical background I could understand the terminology used and the objective of this article. Amidst a pandemic it is natural for a common man to panic about boosting immunity. This article just reassures us that following a health lifestyle and consuming healthy food amongst other thing like taking precautions is the key.

    It is surprising to see people disliking here like a Virus. Wishing the dislikers good antibodies in the form of wisdom and also stronger T cells to combat disliking on any informative article. Educate don't hate. Peace!!

    DisAgree [5] Agree [22] Reply Report Abuse

  • ADRIAN GOMES, Shirva / Kuwait

    Tue, Jun 09 2020

    Details have been very nicely explained although websites / Google gives lot of info.
    Such informative article is of very much importance at the moment, perhaps should have been published a bit earlier. But I guess a few live sessions too have been covered. Thanks to Dr. Edward & Daijiworld for the informative write up.
    I think these topics will be in future for thesis or topics for Covid 19 for Medical students mainly.

    DisAgree [3] Agree [25] Reply Report Abuse

  • Jossey Saldanha, Mumbai

    Tue, Jun 09 2020

    Staying at Home is the best Therapy ...

    DisAgree [5] Agree [20] Reply Report Abuse

  • Langoolacharya., Belman / Washington, DC.

    Tue, Jun 09 2020

    Jossey Sir,

    Being my Guru I cannot dispute you, Quarantine at home is good, appreciate it Sir.

    Dr Edward says smoking is bad for health and it cannot be good for anything....and most of elderly deaths are due to Pneumonia....which is absolutely true...and COVID-19 fatalities are due to Lungs related complications...

    I have a Question to you Sir, Alcohol could be a viable substitute for COVID-19 Vaccination Sir?...What are your thoughts about it?? .... I would like to have a peer review about this in this forum Sir...


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  • Dr. Edward Nazareth, Mangalore

    Tue, Jun 09 2020

    Like smoking alcohol consumption is not good for health; but if one has the habit, moderation is important. Some reasearchers believe that moderate alcohol consumption may provide some health benefits, such as, reducing the risk of developing and dying of heart disease, possibly reducing the risk of ischemic stroke etc. However, a healthy diet and being physically active have much greater health benefits than alcohol. The final message is, if you do not have the habit of consuming alcohol, do not start; it is not going to help you. If you already have the habit of consuming alcohol, maintain moderation- it may not be too bad.

    However, alcohol is not good for immunity. The long-term alcohol exposure leads to a deficient immune response, due to the interruption of normal immune system function. Alcohol and immunodeficiency have long been correlated, though the mechanism for this process is still being studied. Individuals who consume alcohol regularly and at higher levels than the liver can process have increased levels of immunoglobulins within their bloodstream, indicating an autoimmune response. The autoimmune response is the one where the immune sysstem is unable to identify the self from the intruder. Like an intoxicated security person, the immune system in an alcoholic may mark his own as intruder and produces antibodies to eliminate them. The autoimmune response can cause several illnesses.

    DisAgree Agree [18] Reply Report Abuse

  • Langoolacharya., Belman / Washington, DC.

    Tue, Jun 09 2020

    Thanks Dr Edward, good response, agree with it.


    DisAgree [1] Agree [13] Report Abuse

  • Dev, Mangalore

    Tue, Jun 09 2020

    Another detailed & well researched article from Doctor Nazreth.
    Immunity can't be boosted by means of medicines- In fact, boosting the number of cells in the body — immune cells or others — is impossible. What is known is that the body is continually generating immune cells contradicts itself. Yes when food becomes medicine & medicine becomes food then we can help the body to be ready to produce them in case of an invasion of our system by germs or foreign cells. In the next para doctor asks us to consume fruits & vegetables containing nutrients or supplements which itself is the method or prevention or helping the body by providing it the right nutrients in right quantity, then only it can efficiently function all its functions even if age factor diminishes it but can be enhanced by more supplementation than RDI. Doctor claims it is not proven which is right why no pharma companies would do the research or if at all they have done it then they can't make money by patenting them so the file will gather dust in their labs is the fact.
    The claim of vaccines preventing or eliminating polio is what is fed to us by those companies which has been proven to be lies with data proving even 5 years before vaccine was introduced the incidence has come down, it was lack of hygiene, nutrition & spraying of DDT widely had caused that epidemic, the moment it was stopped the polio cases had come down for which false credit was given to vaccines. The polio drops did contain active polio viruses that had caused more cases in the recipients& others as they shed the viruses for 2 weeks. Now as it has been declared polio free the diseases that cause paralysis is given different names in kids. Vaccine injuries are well hidden or unreported facts too.
    Madagaskar introduced their herbal juice as remedy for prevention to treatment against covid despite WHO warnings not to promote it, The result is astounding- 7 people had died before this juice was introduced, none died even aged!

    DisAgree [2] Agree [19] Reply Report Abuse

  • Cynthia, Kirem

    Tue, Jun 09 2020

    Thank you so much dear Dr. Edward... Your simple explanation really widens our knowledge.... Understood "herd immunity" in a better way....thanks for reviving on biology too... Always keep you in our prayers for your selfless service... ... ..God bless 🙏🙏..

    DisAgree [3] Agree [38] Reply Report Abuse

  • Oz, Mangalore

    Tue, Jun 09 2020

    One of the point you mention about smoking and I quote "Smoking has to be stopped. Smoking is bad for overall health. Many elderly who have succumbed to COVID 19 infection were chronic smokers."

    As per French research, nicotine helps to combat covid-19. What's your take on that?

    DisAgree [4] Agree [14] Reply Report Abuse

  • Dr. Edward Nazareth, Mangalore

    Tue, Jun 09 2020

    This is from WHO web site:
    'Smoking any kind of tobacco reduces lung capacity and increases the risk of many respiratory infections and can increase the severity of respiratory diseases. COVID-19 is an infectious disease that primarily attacks the lungs. Smoking impairs lung function making it harder for the body to fight off corona viruses and other respiratory diseases. Available research suggests that smokers are at higher risk of developing severe COVID-19 outcomes and death.'
    It is proved beyond doubt that many people who succumbed to COVID 19 infection were chronic smokers.
    The research quoted by you is a preparation by French researchers to launch a human trial to test their hypothesis that nicotine can help the body combat the COVID-19 infection. It is only a trial to prove or disprove a hypothesis and not a research finding.
    The trial will involve groups of healthcare workers and patients wearing nicotine patches and other groups wearing placebo patches. Then they will be tested to see if there is a difference in how their bodies respond to the virus. It is not a research involving the smokers versus non-smokers. It is known that the tobacco smoking introduces nicotine to the body. As for today modern medicine blames tobacco use for many ailments and not a single beneficial effect.

    DisAgree [2] Agree [26] Reply Report Abuse

  • John, Mangalore

    Tue, Jun 09 2020

    Vaccines and WHO cannot be trusted and why?

    WHO is mainly has become Bill Gates sponsored left leaning communist organisation for depopulation through virus and vaccination and for slowly communist take over of the world. Which is playing with evil viruses to bring their wicked godless agenda. Most of the Autism cases and Childlessness due to their wicked vaccinations, part of depopulation, which were made in name of protection against prevalent viruses some of which are lab made. What evil is planned with this new vaccinations for the current virus God only knows.

    Following organisation have been already setup for Global vaccination check and control such as ID2020, Gavi which are brainchilds of Bill Gates and other pro communist left democrat elites for communist style of control and rule also these viruses they use for closure of religious institutions so there are no prayers and they can do their evil agenda.

    But it has been prophesied God would fix communist China and Russia with severe earthquakes at an appropriate time and also would remove wicked pro godless atheistic communists to bring lasting peace soon. Also it is better to build immunity with available vitamins and immune building medicines so that one is not easily get infected.

    DisAgree [3] Agree [18] Reply Report Abuse


    Tue, Jun 09 2020

    Thymus is a gland situated just below the thyroid in our neck. Job of the Thymus is to identify the Virus & gave instruction to the immune system to fight the Virus.
    But, in case of older people aged over 60 to 65 this Thymus gland is weak due to age factor. Due to weak functioning of Thymus gland it can't identify the New Virus like COVID - 19 Older people are more prone to the infection. Moreover due to the age factor this age old military can't fight the Virus properly people succumb to the Decease.

    DisAgree [1] Agree [35] Reply Report Abuse

  • Dr. Edward Nazareth, Mangalore

    Tue, Jun 09 2020

    The thymus is a tiny organ located right behind the collarbone, and it is an essential part of the immune system. In the thymus, undifferentiated thymocytes develop into naive T cells—immune cells that eventually specialize against specific pathogens.
    The thymus is fully developed even before we are born. However, thymic involution starts as early as the first year and continues through aging. Starting around the time of puberty, the thymus rapidly decreases in size and loses its capacity to produce enough new T cells. There are T cells which have the memory of antigens in the peripheral lymphoid tiisue. The loss of thymus is partially offset by the duplication of existing T cells, from the stem cells of the bone marrow. In adults production of T cells depends more on bone marrow as the thymus is already defunct.(The mechanism is complex, and I have put it in simple words)

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Title: Immune system, COVID 19 infection, and building up immunity - <i>By Dr Edward Nazareth</i>

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