New research suggests that natural defenses that the human body develops in response to a cold may offer some protection against COVID as well. The findings were a result of a small study on 52 people who lived with a person who just got infected with COVID.
According to the BBC, among the 52 study subjects, those who had developed a "memory bank" of specific immune cells after a bout with a cold were more less likely to get infected with COVID. Health experts however, say that people must not rely on the natural defenses the body creates in response to a cold as a protection against COVID, but they believe that the research results may help give better insight into how the body fights viruses.
The small-scale study was published in Nature Communications by researchers from the Imperial College London. They focused on T-cells, which are a crucial part of the body's immune system that can kill cells infected by threats such as a cold virus. Researchers said that some T-cells remain in the body as a "memory bank" well after the cold is gone.
Reuters reported that the study began in September 2020 and focused on the levels of cross-reactive T-cells generated from previous cold infections among 52 subjects. These 52 subjects were household contacts of COVID positive patients shortly after exposure.
Researchers then found that among the 52 close contacts of the COVID patients, 26 of them who did not develop a COVID infection had higher levels of the T-cells than those who got infected. Study author Dr Rhia Kundu remarked, "We found that high levels of pre-existing T cells, created by the body when infected with other human coronaviruses like the common cold, can protect against COVID-19 infection."
The COVID vaccines available today were designed to target the coronavirus' spike protein, which mutates as time passes. This is the reason why the Delta and Omicron variant had emerged and why vaccines became less effective in fighting COVID.
"In contrast, the internal proteins targeted by the protective T-cells we identified mutate much less," study co-author Professor Ajit Lalvani explained. "Consequently, they are highly conserved between the various SARS-CoV-2 variants, including Omicron. New vaccines that include these conserved, internal proteins would therefore induce broadly protective T cell responses that should protect against current and future SARS-CoV-2 variants."
According to the Daily Wire, Dr. Simon Clarke of the University of Reading in England said that the small study could contribute to scientists' understanding of the immune system response and could support future development of vaccines. He warned however, that "these data should not be over-interpreted" and that it would be a "grave mistake to think that anyone who has recently had a cold is protected against COVID-19," because coronaviruses cause about only 10% to 15% of colds.
The study findings on how the common could could provide some protection against COVID comes as the Omicron spread continues to cause a surge in new COVID cases in the U.S. and in other parts of the world. Some scientists, however, believe that the Omicron variant is key in transitioning from a COVID pandemic to a COVID epidemic.
Omicron was described by Tildesley, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modeling and a University of Warwick professor as "the first ray of light" despite it being "more transmissible than Delta was...but much less severe."