How antibodies will allow a return to normal.
The immune system is an incredibly complex bodily system that protects humans from constant threats such as bacteria and viruses. Despite the current chaos and detriment caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, thankfully the body has a built-in defense that ensures the majority of COVID carriers will only suffer mild symptoms.
The immune system combats COVID-19 by producing antibodies when it detects an infection (1). Antibodies are a type of protein that is made specifically to latch onto other molecules called antigens, which are proteins or other macromolecules that elicit an immune system response (2). In patients with COVID-19, antibodies bind to antigens that are hidden on the virus, only exposing themselves while a viral particle latches onto a cell (3). After detecting an organism or other particle via the antigen, the antibody sends signals for another cell called a macrophage to destroy the virus. Macrophages work by enveloping and digesting any cells and other substances which do not have surface proteins native to the body’s cells (4).
Antibodies have additional functionality in two different ways. There exists a “library” of antibodies that allows the body to avoid redesigning antibodies when a familiar antigen is detected, reducing the severity of reinfections. Antibodies also have an area called the hypervariable region which allows them to detect and bond to slight variations of the original antigens. This ability of antibodies means that some mutations of COVID-19 will continue to be fought off by the immune system. However, there have been cases of reinfection, which is important to notice for long term protection against COVID-19 (5).
The understanding of antibodies and COVID-19 can lead to a few conclusions about how to safely return to normalcy. As more of the population gets infected due to contact, the spread of the virus will presumably decrease after a critical point of recovered people is reached. This is a phenomenon known as herd immunity.
Antibodies are also useful to society in the short term as they determine who can return to normal life and their duties. This is especially important to essential workers, such as medical staff and grocery store workers, as they will be able to safely return to their jobs sooner after recovery. Countries such as China, Britain, and Singapore are using sophisticated Polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests to screen for antibodies which have been successful thus far for ensuring a person is safe to exit quarantine (6). Unfortunately, antibodies cannot replace a vaccine as the way the world beats COVID-19, but they provide hope at a time when it is most needed and offer a path to a little sense of normalcy.
– Daniel Katz
- Carthaus, A. (2020, April 7th). The immune system’s fight against the coronavirus. DW. Retrieved from https://www.dw.com/en/the-immune-systems-fight-against-the-coronavirus/a-53048894
- (2004). Hypervariable region. Springer. Retrieved from https://link.springer.com/referenceworkentry/10.1007%2F3-540-29662-X_1303
- Collins, F. (2020, April 14th). Antibody Points to Possible Weak Spot on Novel Coronavirus, NIH Director’s Blog. Retrieved from https://directorsblog.nih.gov/2020/04/14/antibody-points-to-possible-weak-spot-on-novel-coronavirus/
- Saldana, J. Macrophages. British Society for immunology. Retrieved from https://www.immunology.org/public-information/bitesized-immunology/cells/macrophages
- Park, W. (2020, April 22nd). Can you catch Covid-19 twice?. BBC. Retrieved from https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200421-will-we-ever-be-immune-to-covid-19
- Smith, A. (2020, April 8th). Hopes for at-home finger-prick coronavirus test dashed after accuracy is questioned. NBC. Retrieved from https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/hopes-home-fingerprick-coronavirus-test-dashed-after-accuracy-questioned-n1179541