Bacteria-eating viruses Bacteriophages might help form antibodies, reduce mortality rate due to COVID-19 infection
According to scientists, secondary bacterial infections in the respiratory system, along with delayed production of antibodies, is one of the major reasons for increased mortality rate in COVID-19 patients, especially the elderly ones.
The SARS-CoV-2 virus is primarily known to attack the respiratory system of the body and then it proceeds to invade the other organs. Our body recognises this virus as an invader and the innate (inbuilt) immune system of the body starts fighting the infection.
In the presence of high viral load, the immune system's response usually become too aggressive, resulting in the release of inflammatory cells into the lungs. This inflammation leads to fluid accumulation in the lungs, damaging the respiratory cells and making it difficult for the lungs to exchange gases. The debris of dead respiratory cells allows bacteria to grow and cause more infection.
According to scientists, this secondary bacterial infections in the respiratory system, along with delayed production of antibodies, is one of the major reasons for increased mortality rate in COVID-19 patients, especially the elderly ones.
In order to better deal with this complication, the researchers at the University of Birmingham stated that if the bacterial growth is stopped somehow, then the acquired (adaptive) immune system of the body will get the additional time needed for the production of specific antibodies to fight this new virus.
Bacteriophage to reduce the bacterial infection in COVID-19 patients
Various patients with COVID-19 infection have been reported to have a bacterial infection which worsened their condition and sometimes led to death. A review study stated that bacterial infections caused by Acinetobacter baumanii and Klebsiella pneumoniae have been reported in many COVID-19 patients, especially in the ones admitted to the intensive care unit (ICU).
Dr Marcin Wojewodzic, a researcher at the Cancer Registry of Norway, University of Birmingham, stated in his study (published in the journal PHAGE: Therapy, Applications, and Research) that bacteriophages can help in treating COVID-19 patients.
Bacteriophages are a type of viruses which attack specific species of bacteria but are otherwise harmless to the human cells. Bacteriophage attaches itself to the culprit bacterium and hijacks its reproductive system to produce multiple copies of itself. Once the new copies of bacteriophages are made, the culprit bacterium undergoes self-destruction, thus releasing the new copies of the bacteriophage in the surroundings. These new bacteriophages then attach to the other culprit bacteria and the similar process starts again.
Wojewodzic stated that since the adaptive immunity takes time to form antibodies against the new virus, administration of artificial antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 viruses along with the bacteriophage can decrease the production of inflammatory fluids in the lungs of the COVID-19 patients.
Bacteriophage forms antibodies against the COVID-19 infection
Wojewodzic also suggested that bacteriophages can also help in forming antibodies against COVID-19 infection. He wrote that while the patient would be given natural bacteriophages to fight the bacterial growth, some synthetic changes in the bacteriophages could result in the formation of specific antibodies against the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
He stated that this can be possible with the help of ‘phage display’, a molecular biology technique in which the genes of the bacteriophage are modified to improve the affinity of the outer protein coating of the virion (entire virus) for their binding partners.
He believes that if this technique works, the patients would be given extra time to produce their own specific antibodies against the SARS-CoV-2 virus. He further stated that to prove this theory, the study requires immediate clinical trials.
For more information, read our article on Immunity to COVID-19.
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