The term co-morbidities refers to underlying conditions or the existence of other diseases that put individuals at a higher risk of contracting the virus and developing severe complications, even leading to higher mortality risk.

There are various statistics released that confirms the strong association between the prevalence of underlying conditions and COVID-19 patients. Data collected by the newly created COVID-19 associated hospitalization surveillance network (COVID-NET) put the exact prevalence of underlying diseases at 89.3% for patients hospitalized during March 1-30, 2020. Read on further to know more about the risk of comorbidities and how a balanced immune system can minimize your risk.


Comorbidities,  Immunity, and COVID-19

Comorbidity means co-existing disease. Underlying conditions of hypertension, diabetes, obesity, heart disease, renal disease, COPD, dementia, cancer, and asthma are the associated comorbidities that can put individuals at a higher risk. These conditions can especially be seen among the elderly population and that is why the severity of the infection really picks up with age.

Generally, with comorbidities and increased age, the immune system is at a weakened state. For instance, people with diabetes or obesity may not have a healthy lifestyle due to which they can have an impaired immune function and cancer patients may be taking immunosuppressive medications. This can open up gateways for the virus to enter and conquer the system quickly.

That doesn’t mean the younger counterparts can feel entirely at ease. Younger people with the above comorbidities are also at risk. In addition to comorbidities, immunity also plays a massive role in determining the prognosis of coronavirus.

We have also witnessed cases in Maharashtra where few youngsters in the age group of 25 to 30 succumbing to the virus. This can be attributed to the individual’s overall health before the infection. It could have been possible that the immune parameters of the younger patients were weak and they could have been undernourished migrants, for instance.

Inflammation and COVID-19

Some COVID-19 patients experience what is known as a cytokine storm where the individual’s own body produces immense amounts of proteins or antibodies (cytokine) that leads to more inflammation. This induces a state of hyper-inflammation characterized by a fulminant and fatal hyper-cytokinaemia with multiorgan failure. 

In adults, hyper-inflammation is most commonly triggered by viral infections and occurs in 3·7–4·3% of sepsis cases. Some features of these infections include unremitting fever, cytopenias, and hyper-ferritinaemia; pulmonary involvement including respiratory failures occurs in approximately 50% of patients. 

Predictors of fatality from a recent retrospective, multicentre study of 150 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Wuhan, China, included elevated ferritin (mean 1297·6 ng/ml in non-survivors vs 614·0 ng/ml in survivors; p<0·001) and IL-6 (p<0·0001),suggesting that mortality might be due to virally driven hyper-inflammation.

Certain comorbidities or pre-existing conditions also compromise the immune system to release a greater amount of antibodies leading to more significant inflammation.


Mitigating the Risk with Innate Immunity

The first line of defense against viral infections such as COVID-19 is your own immune system. You can support your own body’s natural ability to defend itself against pathogens. A strong immune system is the best antidote against infectious illness and disease.

Of the various types of immunity, your innate immunity plays a vital role in protecting your body. It generates a quick response and includes the external barriers of our body — the skin, stomach acid, and mucous membranes of the throat and gut. 

If the pathogen dodges the innate immunity adaptive or acquired immunity kicks in. As we are exposed to diseases or get vaccinated, we build up a library of antibodies to different pathogens. The response of adaptive immunity is generally slow and currently, there is no vaccine for coronavirus.


How to Boost Innate Immunity?

First of all, to prevent the infection from entering the body it is recommended to follow proper hygiene practices – wash your hands frequently, make sure that your cover your cough or sneeze, stay home if you are unwell, and immediately seek medical attention if you have concerns about your health.

Healthy Lifestyle – Immunity and COVID-19

Secondly, a healthy lifestyle not smoking, drinking little or no alcohol, sleeping well, eating a balanced diet, taking regular moderate exercise, and reducing stress – helps your innate immune systems to be in the best shape possible to tackle pathogens and prevent penetration.

Strengthening the immune system is not something that can be done overnight. The building blocks towards greater immunity is by and large following a healthy lifestyle. When you choose building blocks that create the pathway for the disease over time, these lifestyle choices reduce the optimization of your body’s innate immunity and make it more susceptible to severe infection.

Next in line, taking supplements will not bestow your body with magical immunity as there is no clinical evidence to suggest the same. The best thing is to take an immune-boosting diet by including plenty of Vitamin C food in your diet. Amla or Indian gooseberry is one of the best sources of Vitamin C. Other natural herbs you can include are Ashwagandha that has been shown to reverse immune suppression and turmeric for its anti-inflammatory properties that can generate controlled-inflammation as part of the normal immune response.

Concoctions made of holy basil and neem help to stimulate the immune function and have been traditionally used against viral infections. Also, Guduchi is another versatile herb for supporting immunity.

It is very clear that a balanced immune system is vital against the fight of coronavirus. Practice a healthy lifestyle to reduce your vulnerability.