Protection from Covid-19
It’s over a year since the Covid-19 pandemic swept the world. Things have progressed in terms of treatment and vaccination but there is still a long way to go before we can live normally again. Here we will look at the problems following hospitalisation with Covid-19 and what policy makers might do to prevent so many hospitalisations and what we, as individuals, can do to look after our own health and reduce the risk of severe infection.
Things we’ve learnt from the Covid-19 pandemic so far include:
- People with underlying health conditions including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity, and chronic lung conditions, experience more severe and longer lasting symptoms and side effects, and are more likely to die than those who are healthy.
- Severe Covid-19 infections usually involve the overproduction of pro-inflammatory cytokines which cause many of the short and long term symptoms of Covid (1,2).
- Those with poor nutritional status are more likely to be immuno-compromised and susceptible to infection, and are likely to have worse outcomes.
Research from Michigan finds that outcomes for Covid-19 patients after a stay in hospital include high rates of death, re-hospitalisation, on-going health issues and problems with work and finances (3).
Many people are not able to get back to normal activities or their jobs 2 months after leaving hospital. Symptoms of Covid, such as shortness of breath, tiredness and loss of sense of taste and smell linger on. On-going emotional and financial problems are also common.
How to Improve Outcomes from Covid-19
It’s a way to go before the vaccines reduce rate of infections. In the mean time it’s worth asking what measures could be taken to reduce hospitalisations, morbidity, and pressure on the NHS from Covid-19.
Non pharmaceutical interventions are an important part of risk reduction and recovery. Public information around hand sanitising, mask wearing and physical distancing have been largely successful. Similar messages and policies aimed at improving access to healthy food and opportunities for physical activity could improve the health and quality of life of many people as well as taking the strain off the health care system, not just with regards to Covid-19, but for many other mental and physical health conditions (4).
Ageing and the Immune System
Age, gender, state of health and physical activity all affect the immune response. In particular older malnourished adults are more likely to have worse health outcomes, longer hospital stays, and increased mortality rates (5). Therefore, strategies to promote good nutrition among older populations are important.
Lessons for the Future
On-going habitat destruction globally means there are likely to be future pandemics. Improving the long term health of the population through well proven dietary and lifestyle practices could be a safe and cost effective way of avoiding the devastating consequences of the Covid-19 infection and the strain that has been put on our health care workers.
1. Zabetakis I. COVID-19 cytokine storm: the interplay between inflammation and coagulation. Jose RJ, Mauel A.
2. Nutrients 2020 May 19;12(5):1466. COVID-19: The Inflammation Link and the Role of Nutrition in Potential Mitigation. The Lancet. Resp Med. Vol 8, Issue 6, e46-e47, June 01, 2020
3. Chopra V et al. Sixty-Day Outcomes Among Patients Hospitalized With COVID-19. Annals of Internal Medicine, 2020;
4. O’Hearn M et al. Coronavirus Disease 2019 Hospitalizations Attributable to Cardiometabolic Conditions in the United States: A Comparative Risk Assessment Analysis. Journal of the American Heart Association, 2021;
5. Rayman M, Calder P. Optimising COVID-19 vaccine efficacy by ensuring nutritional adequacy. British, Online: Cambridge University Press: 28 January 2021