The World Health Organization (WHO) constantly emphasizes that it is the elderly who are at risk of contracting the coronavirus. They also have covid-19 more often with complications. According to statistics, the older the patient, the harder he suffers from the disease. Globally, more than 79% of all deaths from covid occur in people over 65. What increases the risk of infection in older people? Scientists believe this is due to the functioning of the immune system.
How does our body fight viral infections?
Covid is not the only virus attacking the human body. Throughout life, our body is exposed to pathogens. Because of them, a person can get sick, because our body is a comfortable place for the growth and reproduction of microbes.
But the immune system protects us from viruses, fungi and bacteria. Even before a person is born, it begins to produce B cells and T cells that fight disease-causing microbes. This is the name for the types of white blood cells that are able to recognize pathogens and block them.
T cells are needed to find infected cells in the body. Antibodies are then directed to them, for the production of which B cells are responsible. Together they constitute what is commonly called the adaptive immune system in immunology.
The immune system learns to recognize pathogens as we age
When doctors take tests for leukocytes, they are just trying to figure out which cells you have more – B or T. By their number, you can determine the presence of an infection in the body. If the indicators are higher than normal, then your immune system is currently fighting some kind of inflammation.
Children and adolescents do not have too many B or T cells. The fact is that their immune systems have not yet encountered a large number of pathogens. The older you get, the better your immune system learns to adapt to pathogens. But this does not mean that in old age a tool will appear in your body that can recognize and defeat any infection.
Every person has an innate immunity.
Leukocytes alone are not enough to protect the body from pathogens. Fortunately, our health does not only depend on the adaptive system. Every cell in our body also has an innate immunity. It allows them to respond directly to the invasion of pathogens without waiting for leukocyte mobilization.
The innate immune response is able to recognize and attack the types of molecules most commonly found in bacteria and viruses. At the same time, it does not touch human cells. When the immune system detects a pathogen, it triggers the production of interferon. It is a protein that kills the infected cell, preventing it from reproducing further.
Monocytes are another type of innate immune cells. They work together to create a barrier that prevents pathogens from multiplying in the body. Monocytes also send a signal to the adaptive system, indicating which cells it needs to fight.
The innate and adaptive systems do not work in isolation. They are a well-oiled machine capable of detecting and destroying pathogens in a short time.
Unfortunately, the older you get, the worse both innate and adaptive responses work. The body is increasingly beginning to lose the “race”. And a person is becoming more vulnerable to diseases, including coronavirus.
Monocytes also produce less and less interferon as they age. Therefore, it is increasingly difficult for the immune system to detect and neutralize the pathogen in time.
The risk of getting sick is higher in older people
With age, many elderly people begin to develop minor chronic inflammation in the body, which does not affect well-being. But it undermines a person’s immunity, dulling his ability to respond to pathogens. It’s like getting used to the annoying sound. At first he seems unbearable to you, but over time you stop paying attention to him.
Therefore, it is so important for older people to follow the rules of distancing during a pandemic. Their immune systems are the most vulnerable to the virus, so their risks of getting infected are much higher. The course of the disease will also be more severe: the number of T and B cells in the body decreases, and they may not be enough to fight covid. It spreads through tiny droplets that pass through the mucous membranes of the nose and mouth into the lungs without hindrance. To protect yourself from them, do not forget to wear a mask, keep your distance. And be sure to wash your hands after coming home, because virus cells can also settle on their surface.