Since the beginning of the pandemic, the World Health Organization (WHO) has had issues communications to the public with information about COVID-19. Unfortunately, there have been several times that they’ve had to recant what they said. This has led to significant confusion on what’s actually true and criticism of the organization’s response. There are many who are disappointed because they feel that agency should be a central resource in a worldwide pandemic, particularly for developing countries that have almost no public health infrastructure to rely on.
The WHO’s latest blunder was saying that asymptomatic individuals don’t spread the virus. They tried to correct this mistake in a special press conference less than 24 hours later by saying that there is still a great deal that isn’t known about the virus yet. Unfortunately, the damage was done with many groups latching on to that statement and using it for justification that the recommendations to wear masks and remain socially distant shouldn’t be followed.
These sentiments from individuals comes as the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued new guidelines that the highest risk for contacting the virus is attending large gatherings where it’s a challenge for people to stay at least six feet apart, not wearing the proper face coverings and people come from outside the local area. They advise that if you’re going to be out in public of any kind, especially large gatherings, you should wear a face covering that protects your nose and mouth. According to Dr. Jay Butler, the deputy director for infectious diseases at the CDC, “The guideline is really for any type of gathering whether it’s the backyard barbecue or something larger.”
While public health officials are trying to reduce the spread of the virus, scientists are trying to find a way to help those with one of the most severe forms of the disease. A cytokine storm is when the body’s immune system safeguards fail. Typically, when immune cells first encounter a pathogen, they release molecules, cytokines, which enlist even more cells to the fight. After the danger ebbs, the immune system will usually turn itself off. However, sometimes it doesn’t and this results in a cytokine storm. The relentless response exhausts the immune system and can shut down the lungs, kidneys and liver, which if not corrected quickly enough, is fatal. This response can occur in any one, even those who are young and don’t have underlying conditions. There are milder forms of this same mechanism that occur in autoimmune diseases, such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis. Since individuals who have diabetes, obesity and hypertension have a higher baseline of inflammation, this could explain why they’re more likely to become extremely ill.
In order for people to survive the overactive immune response, it’s essential to calm the storm. This is what is being studied. Some options that are being looked at are different medications. Most of the medications that doctors have tried so far are treatments for autoimmune diseases. Another idea is to use drugs to block the cycle of inflammation by cutting off the cytokine supply at its source. In addition, there are new drugs being developed, but it’s still too soon to tell what effect, if any, they’ll have. A different possibility is to try to purify the blood, similar to the way dialysis machines operate.