Severe COVID Patients Have Very Low Levels of This Immune Cell

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Severe COVID Patients Have Very Low Levels of This Immune Cell

This novel discovery may partially explain the severity of symptoms in some people. 

In an early study out of Wuhan, China on patients that were hospitalized with COVID, severe cases tended to have very low levels of T-lymphocytes, which are specialized white blood cells that protect against infections.  This decrease of T-lymphocytes (also called T-cells) correlated with in-hospital death and severity of illness.

Low T-cell count was also seen in patients with previously identified and similar virus SARS-CoV1 (which occurred in 2003) but is not common among other virus infections, according to the authors of the study. 

T-cells are further divided into several types, which are highly specialized depending on the proteins and receptors they contain.  In an intricately linked feedback system, the T-cells “talk” to each other.  Sometimes they send inflammatory chemicals to kill cells infected with a virus, while other times these T-cells will send anti-inflammatory signals that essentially “cool” the inflammatory response.

Two well-known types of T-cells are CD4+ (sometimes called T-helper cells) and CD8+ (sometimes called cytotoxic or killer cells).   The type of T-cell determines the type of signals it sends, so a T-cell can both increase inflammation as well as decrease inflammation.  

In other words, having a lot of T-cells does not necessarily equate to a highly inflammatory response (sometimes called a cytokine storm) because some T-cells’ job is to quell the inflammatory response and bring the whole immune system back in check.  

T-cells make many types of cytokines, which are chemicals used to relay information in biological tissues. (cyto = cell, kine = movement, as in moving information from cell to cell).  Two well-researched cytokines are IL-10 and IL-6.   In general, IL-10 is an anti-inflammatory molecule while IL-6 is a pro-inflammatory molecule.  T-cells create both these molecules, IL-10 and IL-6. 

This study out of Wuhan, China demonstrated that in the most severe cases of COVID, the T-cell count was significantly decreased, usually to half of normal values,  suggesting that the body lost its ability to effectively communicate, on a molecular level, the necessary signals needed to (1) fight the virus, (2) manage the resultant inflammation or both.

In critically ill patients, T-cells were decreased to a third of those found in mildly ill patients.  Subsequent research has reinforced this finding indicating that “coronavirus consume many immune cells” according to the authors.

Besides cell-to-cell communication, a main role of the T-cell is to multiply when needed, essentially cloning itself as it creates an army against invading pathogens.  The ability to measure T-cell function (via proliferation assay) is available at SpectraCell Laboratories in its Immunidex test, which is a component of the more comprehensive Micronutrient Test.

(Journal of Infection, July 2020)

SpectraCell measures T-cell function in a test called the Immunidex, which is part of its more comprehensive Micronutrient Test. Beginning in 2021, the Immunidex can be ordered as a standalone test called the Immunidex Screen.

Suppressed T cell-mediated immunity in patients with COVID-19: A clinical retrospective study in Wuhan, China.   LINK to FREE FULL TEXT