Pat Smith

Pat Smith

Susceptible – “likely or liable to be influenced or harmed by a particular thing.” Take note, it said “harmed.”

Technically we already know that about 80% of the total population will not be harmed by COVID-19, that most will have no symptoms. Others will have minor symptoms such as those asociated with a cold or a mild case of the flu.

In Arkansas the infected cases requiring hospitalization are about 10%. At the time of this writing 605 cases have been hospitalized. About 2% of total cases so far have died.   

So the question is, what might make COVID-19 harmful to you? What might move you to the 10% requiring hospitalization?  

Your body expects to be harmed, short term. That is why you have an immune system. Long term harm is avoided when your immune system recognizes a COVID-19 virus as potentially harmful and neutralizes it. You are thus susceptible to harm if your immune system isn't doing its job. What might cause that?

Step one in immune activation (system sees something wrong, potentially harmful) is inflammation. Ideally that immune system neutralizes the harm and the inflammation goes away. Life is good. 

What puts you in the 10% category is chronic low grade inflammation, the immune system is stressed perpetually. What we know about COVID-19 is that obesity is a primary issue. 

Excessive body fat is very inflammatory. More often than not that excess body fat results from uncontrolled blood sugar (sometimes diagnosed as diabetes and sometime not ). Excess body fat is particularly problematic when the fat is visceral (abdominal fat wrapped around organs) as opposed to generalized body fat like butt or legs. High blood pressure is another problem area.

All these generate chronic inflammation and excessive demand on the immune system. And with rare exception these conditions are diet and lifestyle related. 

These are among the troublesome problems called underlying health conditions.  

Sometimes your immune system gets confused, thinks some body parts like joints, glands, or nerves don't belong and generates inflammation in an effort to neutralize that body part. These folks have autoimmune diseases. More often than not, the immune confusion is caused by diet, lifestyle, and environmental elements.  

Autoimmune diseases have varying symptoms depending on the part under attack. Treatment for symptoms (and chemotherapy, by the way) are inevitably immune suppressants. A surpressed immune system is not prepared to respond to infections.

The perfect example of something that doesn't belong is an organ transplant. Transplants require continuous immune suppressants in order to avoid transplant rejection. 

Things then get more complicated if you happen to be old. Aging alone reduce the capability of the immune system. We are all going to die from something eventually.    

 I expect you can see that the older you are, the more chronic conditions are stacking up,  the more treatments are suppressing the immune system, the more susceptible you are. 

If you have a transplanted organ or are an aging individual with underlying health conditions, I suggest you protect yourself. That may mean isolation with a family that will do their best to avoid bringing the  COVID-19 virus home to you. 

For the rest of us, we will start next week looking at how to take the stress off our immune system. In the meantime, practice social distancing, wear a mask in public, and wash/sanitize your hands – often. 

Pat Smith is the author of "It's All about the Food," a book that guides nutritious food choices as the way to avoid illness and maintain a healthy weight. Proceeds from her book benefit the Montgomery County Food Pantry. She can be contacted by email at patsmith2@live.com, 870-490-1836. Her Facebook page is www.facebook.com/patsmithbooks.  Her website is  http://www.allaboutthefood.org/ 

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