Science & Technology

Exposure to harmless coronavirus may enhance COVID-19 immunity

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Population immunity to SARS-CoV-2 achieved by either infection or vaccination is important for overcoming the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a new study at the University of Zurich, researchers have discovered another factor that contributes to SARS-CoV-2 immunity: previous antibody responses to other harmless coronaviruses.

They found that people who showed a strong immune response to other human coronaviruses also had some protection against SARS-CoV-2 infection.

In their study, researchers analyzed antibody levels against four other human coronaviruses in 825 serum samples taken prior to the appearance of SARS-CoV-2. They also examined 389 samples from donors infected with SARS-CoV-2.

By combining these analyzes with a computer-based model, the team was able to accurately predict how well the antibody would bind and neutralize the invading virus.

Researchers have found that people who catch SARS-CoV-2 have lower levels of antibodies to the common cold-causing coronavirus than those who are not infected.

In addition, people with high levels of antibodies to the harmless coronavirus were less likely to be hospitalized after catching SARS-CoV-2.

This study shows that a strong antibody response to human coronavirus increases the level of antibody to SARS-CoV-2.

Therefore, those who have acquired immunity to the harmless coronavirus are also better protected from severe SARS-CoV-2 infection.

This type of immune response, called cross-reactivity, also occurs in the T cell response, which is an additional line of the immune system in defense against infection.

According to the team, people are fully protected from SARS-CoV-2 only shortly after recovering from infection or receiving effective vaccination.

This is when the antibody level against the virus is still very high.

As these levels decline over time, infections are no longer prevented, but immunological memory rapidly reactivates the body’s defenses, antibody production, and T cell defenses.

It is not yet known if this cross-reactivity works in the opposite direction. Whether immunity to SARS-CoV-2 achieved by vaccination, for example, also provides protection against other human coronaviruses remains to be elucidated.

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This study is published in Nature Communications. One of the authors of this study is Alexandra Turkeyla.

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Exposure to harmless coronavirus may enhance COVID-19 immunity Exposure to harmless coronavirus may enhance COVID-19 immunity

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