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Caring for the immunocompromised

Three steps that can be taken to keep older people healthy in the face of novel coronavirus disease



 As the number of COVID-19 cases increases, the most vulnerable remain to be the elderly due to a compromised immune system. Other people may also be immunocompromised if they have conditions like autoimmune diseases, diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, dialysis patients, and post surgery and organ transplantation. Pregnant women and very small children must also be protected at all costs.


Understanding the immune system

The immune system is our first line of defense against infection. It is composed of a network of cells and proteins, much like the different units of a military system that work synergistically to kill pathogens in the form of viruses and bacteria. COVID-19 is a viral type of infection that has no known cure and vaccination. An infected person’s chances of survival solely rely on his or her immune system’s ability to fight the infection. While doctors may prescribe medications, these drugs are only good for treating symptoms. For example, paracetamol is given to address fever. It will lower the patient’s temperature but it will not kill the virus. Limiting the multiplication of the virus inside the body is done by the immune system.

Unfortunately, immunocompromised individuals have a weakened immune system. A person with good immunity may not be susceptible to catching the common cold or flu but an immunocompromised individual could easily be infected. How much more if the pathogen is as virulent as COVID-19?

Boosting immunity

  • Infection Control Measures: Observe the common infection control practices such as handwashing, social distancing, no touching of face, wearing masks, use of eating utensils, and disinfecting the surroundings.

  • Proper hydration: As we get older, the sense of thirst diminishes. Therefore it is crucial to drink water even when not thirsty. Water must be consumed regularly throughout the day. The frequency is just as important as the amount. The body is made up of about 70 percent water and it is the medium for bodily processes and pathways. Dehydration leads to decreased immune function.

  • Get the sunshine vitamin: 10 to 15 minutes of daily sun exposure is needed to boost immunity. The Far Infrared Rays from the sun increases one’s core temperature. It stimulates the immune system to produce white blood cells and killer T-cells, naturally boosting immunity. In addition, sun exposure helps the body produce vitamin D. It modulates the immune system. Studies have shown very low levels have been linked to an underactive and hyperactive immune response. If sun exposure is not possible, consult your dietitian or physician regarding vitamin D3 supplementation. Furthermore, exposure to sunlight helps the body produce the hormone serotonin. It is a mood regulator, as well as an important component in the production of the sleep hormone melatonin. Quality sleep is important in strengthening the body’s ability to fight infection and recover faster.

  • Give them nutrient-rich food: Include food that is high in mineral zinc such as lean meat, chicken, egg, legumes, nuts, and if budget allows, chia seeds and seeds from sunflower and pumpkin seeds. Zinc plays an important signaling role (think of traffic light) in the immune system, helping the immune cells function efficiently. Plant nutrients or phytonutrients found mostly in vegetables and fruits aid the immune system by keeping inflammation at bay and balancing immune function. Whenever possible, vegetable dishes and fresh fruits must be eaten at least two meals in a day or more. It is best to avoid raw vegetables, unless it is thoroughly cleaned, to prevent infection among the immunocompromised population.

 While it is impossible to do each and every recommendation thrown our way, it is prudent to at least try to make the most of what resources you have and what you can  do to protect yourself and your immunocompromised loved ones.

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