Yes, Covid Affects People Differently, Even In The Same Household

Every Monday, we’ll answer your questions on Covid-19 and health in a feature published online. You can submit a question here.

HuffPost UK reader Charlie asked: “Why does Covid affect people differently?”

If there’s one thing we know about Covid-19, it’s that no two people seem to be impacted in the same way.

Some people can become infected but not have any symptoms whatsoever (it’s thought one in three experience this), others can end up with a runny nose and sore throat, while family or flatmates in the same household end up breathless, coughing and unable to get out of bed.

Some have headaches, others have diarrhoea. Children can be completely unaffected, or come out in rashes and a raging fever. Both young and old can end up hospitalised – with some ending up on ventilation.

But why does it impact us all so differently? Is it to do with our immune systems, genetics, viral load or something else entirely?

Why does Covid impact people differently?

“All infectious diseases affect different people to a different extent,” Professor Charles Bangham, chair of immunology and co-director of the Institute of Infection at Imperial College London, tells HuffPost UK.

“I might suffer badly when I get influenza, whereas you might have a mild or even completely asymptomatic infection, even if we can detect some virus in swabs from your respiratory tract. But with a different virus, I might have a milder infection than you.”

The main reason for these differences between individuals is that each of us has a unique set of genes that control the efficiency of the immune response, he explains.

When Covid-19 enters the body, it attaches to our cells, hijacks them, and then creates copies of itself to invade even more cells. Our immune system kicks in to try and stop this, sending out its frontline defence – the ‘innate immune response’ – to deal with the intruder.

This is the default response to any virus entering the body. As part of this initial response, inflammatory proteins called ‘interferons’ are released, which have antiviral functions. The aim is to stop the virus in its tracks – though we don’t actually know how well this first response works in fending off infection.

While the innate immune system is trying (and sometimes failing) to fight off the virus, it also ‘talks’ to the more specific ‘adaptive’ immune response. This is your body’s tailor-made solution for dealing with Covid-19, and involves the release of B-cells, which produce antibodies, as well as T-cells, which kill infected cells.

It’s been speculated that some people might generate immunity that helps fight against Covid-19 after previously being infected by another coronavirus, which *could* help explain why some people don’t get it as bad.

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