The outbreak of COVID-19 as a pandemic has serious consequences for human life, health systems and economy worldwide. Various countries are in major lockdowns to prevent and contain the pandemic but all these efforts not that fruitful. The Health systems of many countries are on the verge of collapsing. No authentic cure has yet been discovered for this contagious virus. A vaccine is still underway in creation. Millions of humans have succumbed to this virus and still, there are no signs of the pandemic stopping.
WHO has reported approximately 12.9 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 and up to 571K deaths according to that of 11th June 2020. The latest records indicate a total of 109704 confirmed cases and 27990 deaths in Asia.
In Pakistan, the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed on 26th February and till 11th July almost 246351 cases have been confirmed along with 5123 deaths. In Sindh, the most number of cases have been reported which are more than 101000 whereas most of the deaths from COVID-19 have been reported in Punjab that is more than 1972. Pakistan is working on vaccine trials like other countries but no attempts have yet been successful.
Centuries before the COVID-19 pandemic, many different contagions have affected mankind and have changed the paths for the human race. The most famous pandemics until the modern age are as follows:
- The Antoine Plague
- The Black Death
- The Italian Plague
- Swine flu
- The Yellow fever
- The 1918 flu
Role of Immune system in COVID-19
No proper life-saving drug has been discovered yet for the treatment of COVID-19. Many countries are carrying out trials for vaccines but none of them have been successful till now. Greater emphasis is being given on immunopathology of COVID-19 as this may help in the discovery of a vaccine or life-saving drug. Immunotherapy is considered as a forefront for COVID-19 patients as it provides a protective effect and makes the immune system strong for fighting off the virus.
A balanced and healthy immune system plays a crucial role in protecting against diseases and unknown dangerous foreign bodies. A proper immune system detects and differentiates foreign bodies such as bacteria, virus and parasites from healthy body tissues and attacks these foreign bodies.
Food safety is an important practice in maintaining a healthy immune system. Foods containing toxins and chemicals adversely affect the immune system. Long term exposure to chemicals naturally occurring toxins, heavy metals and pollutants infested foods can destroy the immune system. Proper intake of water is also important in maintaining a healthy immune system as it hydrates the body and removes toxins from the body.
Preventive Health and Nutrition Practices
To stay healthy during this pandemic, it is necessary to monitor daily health. If shortness of breath, cough, sneeze, temperature or other symptoms occur, then it is necessary to get tested immediately. In the case of positive tests, isolation of the patient is necessary to prevent others in close proximity from getting infected. While dealing with an infected patient, precautionary measures must be taken such as wearing gloves, masks and maintaining distance. Mask and gloves should be discarded to prevent further spreading of the virus. Excessive trips to public places should be prevented.
According to medical experts, immunocompromised people are more vulnerable to COVID-19 as compared to a person with a healthy immune system. It is necessary to keep a balanced immune system for prevention against this virus. A healthy and proper diet plays a crucial role in maintaining a properly working immune system. A person with a strong immune system is less likely to fall victim to COVID-19.
A healthy diet is important for an immune system to perform its functions efficiently. Nutrients required for effective immune system functioning are
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin B
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
Vitamin A plays an important role in maintaining the growth and development of the body. Its deficiency increases the chances of infections. The foods that are a high source of Vitamin A are
- Fortified cereals
- Vegetables and fruits (carrot, cantaloupe, squash, broccoli, apricot and mangoes etc.)
Vitamin B9 and B12 are crucial for the proper functioning and maintenance of the immune system and cellular functions of the body. Deficiency of vitamin B can cause poor transport of oxygen which results in weakness and fatigue. It also causes anemia. Vitamin B rich foods are
- Whole Grains (brown rice, millet, barley)
- Legumes (beans and lentils)
- Seeds and nuts (almond, sunflower seeds)
- Leafy vegetables (spinach, kale, broccoli)
- Fruits (citrus, avocados)
- Seafood (trout, mussels, oysters)
Vitamin C plays a significant role in immune system functioning in maintaining immune defense and cellular functions of innate as well as the adaptive immune system. Its deficiency can cause slow, poor immunity, slow healing of wounds, joint pain, anemia and bleeding gums. Sources of Vitamin C are
- Fruits (strawberry, pineapple, kiwi, mango, guava)
- Vegetables (potato, peppers, spinach, kale, cabbage, tomato, broccoli, Brussels sprouts)
Vitamin D plays the most important and crucial role in the immune system. It allows the proliferation of B-cells and blocks the differentiation of B-cells. It also controls T-cell proliferation and maturation. The deficiency of vitamin D causes autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis. It also causes rickets in children and osteomalacia in adults. Sources of Vitamin D are
- Fish (salmon, tuna, cod liver oil)
- Cereal and oatmeal
- Dairy products
- Beef liver
- Soy milk
Zinc plays a critical role in the development of immune system cells and neutrophils. Its deficiency causes impaired immune system functionality. Sources of zinc are:
- Seeds and Nuts
- Whole grains
It is important to regulate nutrients in COVID-19 infected patients to maintain energy and prevent weakness. Patients that require intubation or ventilators are not able to meet their nutritional requirements properly. During the phase of recovery, it is important to supply adequate nutrients to the patient otherwise recovery can be slow leading to other health risks such as weakened immunity, vulnerable to other infections, ulcers and loss of muscle.
Preventive Hygiene Practices
Hygiene plays an important role in the prevention of COVID-19. It spreads through droplets produced by the infected person through sneeze and cough mainly. It is contagious and spreads from person to person. Some important hygiene practices for prevention of COVID-19 are
- Frequently wash hands regularly for a minimum of 20 seconds, especially after coming from a public place, after using the toilet and before meals.
- Wear a mask in public places and discard the mask after reaching home.
- Keep a distance of 6 feet while interacting with other people, especially in a public place.
- Cover the mouth and nose while sneezing and coughing with a tissue or napkin and immediately discard it safely to prevent contamination.
- Frequently used surfaces and items such as doorknobs, counters, taps, desks, keys and mobile phones etc. with disinfectants.
- Clean the house with medically approved disinfectants frequently.
A comparison of Past and Present Scenarios
The genetic makeup of the 1918 virus is similar to COVID-19. The mode of spreading of both viruses is from person to person. The mortality rate of the 1918 virus was 0.5-1.0%, whereas COVID-19 is 3-5%. The 1918 flu, mostly affected middle-aged people but COVID-19 affects mostly old aged people, but in many cases, younger people have also been affected.
In the past, people majorly relied on non-scientific treatments such as herbs and oils extracted from animals and plants. During the 1918 flu, snake oil, tar, honey, mandrake pills and different ointments were on the rise as a cure. But after almost 100 years, today people approach a more scientific way of treatment. Even though no cure or vaccine of COVID-19 has yet been found, but trials for vaccines and life-saving drugs are being carried out.
COVID-19 has been spread worldwide with almost 12.9 million confirmed cases. No treatment is found yet. The symptoms of this novel virus are cough, flu, fever and shortness of breath. Trials for vaccine and life-saving drugs are still working. It is necessary to maintain social distancing and to keep a record of medical conditions and symptoms. Isolation of infected individuals is necessary. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle can prevent COVID-19 to a certain extent. It is important to adopt a healthy lifestyle and hygienic practices. By following protocols and standard operating procedures set by medical experts, the rapid spreading of the virus can be prevented.
- Author: Fatima Hasnain (B.Sc Food Science and Technology)
- Address: Pir Meher Ali Shah Arid Agriculture University, Rawalpindi, Pakistan
- Email: email@example.com