Stress may make it hard to fight off COVID-19 and flu

Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Scientists from Massachusetts General Hospital found that stress can be detrimental to fighting off infection, especially COVID-19, and increases the chance of death.

They found how specific regions in the brain control the body’s cellular immune response while under acute stress and infected with COVID-19 or influenza.

Stress diminishes an immune response to viruses such as COVID-19 and influenza, making the body less resistant to fighting infection and putting it at greater risk of complications and death.

This fundamental discovery connecting the brain to the immune system provides a better understanding of how stress affects the body’s response to a virus, and why some may be more susceptible to severe illness and worse outcomes.

The research is published in Nature and was conducted by Filip K. Swirski et al.

In the study, the team tested how mice in the relaxed and stressed models compared when infected with influenza and COVID-19.

They found that mice in the relaxed group fared better when compared to the stressed group—they fought infection better and got rid of the virus more easily.

Mice in the stressed group were sicker, had less immunity, and had a higher rate of death from the virus.

The team also explored how other regions of the brain related to motor function control different types of immune cells traveling from the bone marrow to the blood.

The team says the effect of stress on white blood cells and how it may negatively impact fighting a virus is important to further understand outcomes and find ways to improve immunity.

If white blood cells continually enter the bloodstream, this could have implications for cardiovascular health as well.

This study is an important example of how the brain controls inflammation and its link to diminishing an immune response during acute stress.

This work may prompt physicians to further look into the mental state of patients, including sleep patterns and stress levels.

It may prompt interventions to not just live a healthier and less stressful lifestyle, but help the body better fight infection and improve outcomes.

If you care about Covid, please read studies about why are we seeing more COVID cases in fully vaccinated people, and this existing drug can save damaged lungs in COVID-19.

For more information about health, please see recent studies about a new drug that could prevent COVID-19, and results showing that current COVID-19 vaccines cannot effectively prevent omicron infection.

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