Health & Wellness

How Does the Immune System Fight Viral Infections Like HPV and Coronavirus?

In many situations, the immune system is able to fight off viral infections like HPV and coronavirus strains such as COVID-19. This is because the body is capable of developing a specific response to the virus, killing it. 

Because each immune system is unique, their responses are not all efficient, which can result in poor health outcomes. Despite this, there are a number of ways that the immune system can be supported and strengthened, increasing its response to diseases and creating healthier individuals. 

HPV

Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is a type of virus that is generally sexually transmitted through skin-to-skin contact. There are over 100 different strains of this virus, and some can cause severe health problems such as genital warts, cervical cancer, as well as cancer of the throat, anus, vagina, and penis. There are also strains that are far less harmful and show no physical symptoms at all, so many people are not even aware that they are infected. This is one of the most common sexually transmitted diseases in the United States, and there are approximately 14 million new cases confirmed every year. 

Coronavirus

COVID-19 is a form of coronavirus. This is a relatively new strain of coronavirus that has very swiftly impacted the world, creating a global pandemic. COVID-19 travels from person to person via airborne particles, and there is evidence to show that the virus moved from animals to humans. COVID-19 is not the first type of coronavirus to cause serious harm to large populations – SARS and MERS were both also viruses of this kind. In most cases, the symptoms of COVID-19 are mild and include a sore throat, coughing, and a fever. In severe cases, it can cause extreme respiratory problems or death. Approximately 3.4% of all infected individuals die from the coronavirus, and this rate is much higher for the elderly population, or people who were already sick with a pre-existing condition.

Just like with HPV, some people may become infected with COVID-19 but never display any of the symptoms. This is significant because these individuals are still contagious, and they can spread the virus on to others. 

How the immune system works

When the body develops an infection, the immune system creates a response to fight it. The immune system is capable of recognizing foreign cells (pathogens) that should not be in the body, such as the HPV or COVID-19 virus. These pathogens are partially made up of antigens, which is how the body can recognize the pathogen as something that must be destroyed. B lymphocytes, a kind of white blood cell, connect to the antigen, and they begin to secrete antibodies that mark out the cells that must be attacked by the immune system. Then T lymphocytes then come along and attack the cells that have been signified as antigens, and they destroy it, destroying the virus. 

Even after the viral infection has left, the immune system retains these antibodies, meaning that the person is now immune to that virus. It is important to note that because there are so many strains of HPV, getting one strain and becoming immune to it does not mean that the body is now immune to all strains – if someone contracts a different strain, the immune system must develop new antibodies to fight that one as well. In most cases, the immune system can develop to fight an HPV infection efficiently, eradicating the virus in less than two years, before it can manifest into cancer. Although there is still very limited understanding surrounding COVID-19, scientists believe that once a person has contracted that specific coronavirus, they are immune to it for years, based on research on different types of coronaviruses. 

How to support the immune system

There are currently no cures for HPV or COVID-19, meaning that in order to get well, the body’s immune system must fight the disease itself. This is generally beyond the control of the individual, but there are things that can be done in order to support the immune system to function as well as possible. 

One of the ways to do this is to remain active. Obesity has been found to be a risk factor for severe COVID-19, as it can increase the risk of breathing difficulties, which will exacerbate the condition, as well as leading to other health problems. By remaining active and within a healthy weight range, people’s immune systems can function more efficiently, and they have less chance of developing a comorbid condition that can worsen the effects of a virus. 

It is also recommended that people get vaccinated against HPV. Gardasil is the most popular vaccination and is offered to people ages 12 to 45. It does not vaccinate against all of the strains of the virus, but it does make people immune to HPV 16 and 18, the two strains that are known to cause cervical cancer. This vaccine is made up of virus-like particles that look like HPV particles but are completely safe. The body develops the appropriate response to these particles so that when a real HPV infection occurs, the immune system is ready to fight. Although there is currently no vaccination for COVID-19, researchers are currently working on one that may be available in the future. If/when a vaccine is created for COVID-19, it will function just the same as the HPV one, by stimulating the body’s response to safe virus-like particles, creating antibodies for a real potential infection. 

You can also boost your immune system by maintaining a healthy diet. Research has shown that foods that have high amounts of antioxidants, folate, and carotenoids can help the body to fight the HPV virus faster and reduce the risk of it turning into cancer. Supplements are a convenient way to ensure that the body is receiving all of the essential nutrients it needs to perform at maximum capacity. There are supplements designed specifically to aid the immune system in responding to HPV, such as Papillex. These have utilized scientific research to incorporate the necessary vitamins, herbs, and other compounds that can increase antibody responses. 

COVID-19 is still relatively new, so there is less information surrounding what nutrients are best-suited to improve the body’s immune response. Despite this, an overall healthy diet and generalized supplements that are designed to boost the immune system can still be helpful in providing the body with all of the support it needs to stay healthy.

Health2Wellness

We are nutritionist, health writer's, and food bloggers. Check it out our latest health & wellness articles on fitness, diet, and healthy living.

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