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Why Some People Never Become Infected With COVID-19

With the ongoing surge of COVID-19 infections in China, many are shocked by its scale and worried about a potential new wave hitting the rest of the world.

How can you better protect yourself if another wave does come to your region? Here, we take a close look into the factors impacting our antiviral immunity.

Some People Never Get Infected by Viruses

Looking at pandemics throughout history, one cannot ignore the impacts of the Black Death, which swept through Europe and reduced the population in some areas by more than half. Yet some people never got sick.

Cholera almost wiped out Europe, but some people stayed uninfected even though they ate the same contaminated food and drank the same cholera-tainted water.

Some doctors and nurses dedicated their lives to the leprous tribes, and yet they never had leprosy in their lives.

Two human challenge trials were done during the 1918 Spanish flu by two independent groups of doctors in Boston and San Francisco with 62 and 50 healthy volunteers, respectively.

Regardless of how many aggressive means were taken to try to infect people (even dropping mucus or bodily fluids from flu patients into the healthy volunteers’ eyes, noses, or throats), none of the participants became infected.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, a SARS-CoV-2 human challenge study published in Nature in 2022 found that out of the 36 healthy volunteers inoculated with the SARS-CoV-2 virus intranasally, only a little over half became infected with mild symptoms, and the other half were uninfected. Two were excluded from the per-protocol analysis, so the experiment went on with 34 participants.

This experiment goes to show that some people just don’t get infected.

Viruses ‘See’ People With Weakened Immunity

While people may look similar on the outside, we look very different in the microscopic world of viruses. Our immune systems look different, too.

The immune system we were both with is sophisticatedly designed, layer upon layer, and acts like an army protecting us against various viruses and bacteria 24/7.

Viruses need suitable cells to replicate.

If a person’s cells are in a good antiviral state, there is no soil for the virus to spread its roots, so to speak, so that person won’t become infected.

For instance, mucosal epithelial cells in our nose can automatically secrete a substance that puts this cell into an antiviral state.

This substance is called interferon. It interferes with the replication of the virus, breaking down its protein, enzymes, and RNA so that the virus cannot survive in these cells.

Going deeper, there are a variety of immune cells, such as natural killer (NK) cells, macrophages, and lymphocytes. Each cell is like a special soldier possessing special skills to fight viruses.

Even if you become infected, if your immune system is strong, you will only be infected with mild disease, and you can quickly recover.

Research published in the journal Scientific Reports of Nature proves that at the early stage of infection, the more interferon is present, the lower the incidence of developing severe symptoms of COVID.

On the contrary, if a person has poor antiviral immunity, the virus will more likely to go wild in his or her body.

Two States of Immunity

There are generally two distinct states of immunity.

One is the antiviral state. It is characterized by strong antiviral immunity of the immune cells that can secrete interferons to eradicate viruses. The other is the systemic chronic inflammation state. This state makes people susceptible to viral infections.

A study published in Nature Medicine summarizes the causes of chronic inflammation and its consequences.

Having Purpose Promotes Antiviral Immunity

When we talk about strengthening immunity, people often think about improving nutrition or developing antibodies.

Those factors are important; boosting nutrition and adding exercise to one’s regimen will certainly help. At the same time, there are other internal ways to enhance our ability to fight viruses.

Everyone has emotions, thoughts, characteristics, and different mental states. People think that our thoughts are intangible, but they do in fact have material applications. Science has proved this point already.

In psychology, there are two sorts of concepts regarding happiness: hedonic and eudaimonic. Hedonic refers to the happiness gained through pleasurable experience, and eudaimonic refers to happiness that comes from achieving purpose and meaning. A 2013 study published in a top-ranked journal discovered that people who were inclined to pursue justice and noble goals (eudaimonic) had higher interferon gene expression, higher ability to produce antibodies, and significantly lower expression of chronic inflammatory genes.

Furthermore, according to a Harvard University and University of California, Berkeley, study published in Current Opinion in Psychology in 2015 (pdf), people with honest hearts are less prone to viral infections. This is because the cortisol responsiveness of liars is significantly higher than that of truth-tellers. And the higher the cortisol responsiveness, the easier it is for the stress hormone levels in the body to rise.

Corticosteroids and cortisol have an inhibitory effect on immune cells and suppress the body’s ability to fight viruses. Therefore, dishonest behavior will lead to a decline in antiviral ability.

Additionally, research has found that people who seek purpose in life have stronger natural killer cell function and immunity.

A study was conducted by the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center in the Departments of Behavioral Sciences and Neurological Sciences at the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago on the important determinant of health outcomes and mortality in community-dwelling elderly persons in the United States.

Researchers found that having a stronger sense of purpose in life effectively prevents lethal events. A person with a high score on the purpose in life measure had a 43 percent reduced risk of mortality compared to a person with a low score. Thus, developing and refining people’s sense of purpose can protect health and potentially save lives.

The scientific evidence supports that our thoughts, mindsets, and moral standards can affect the genes and functions of immune cells, affect hormone levels, and impact holistic antiviral immunity.

As a whole, our thoughts can contribute to whether or not we are infected in an epidemic, or whether or not we will be seriously ill after we are infected.

In traditional cultures, people who are kind, altruistic, honest, and who have a calm heart and humble attitude are normally healthier. Now we understand that it is because they produce high levels of interferon, strong NK cell function, and strong antiviral immunity. Such people are less susceptible to viral infections.

People with these qualities usually have a stable mind and better mental health and do not easily become anxious, depressed, or have negative and intense emotions.

I have a friend who has faith, is kind, often volunteers to help others, and has been in the COVID ward every day throughout the pandemic. This friend has never been infected with COVID-19. I also have many other friends similar to her who have remained uninfected during the pandemic, too.

Throughout the recent COVID surge in China, there have been an unusual number of high-profile Chinese officials who have died of suspected COVID-19 infections. As high-ranking officials in China, they enjoy state-of-the-art medical care and have adequately supplied first-class food, nutrients, and dietary supplements. So why have they been dying during this wave?


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