Skip to main content
Tufts University School of Medicine

How the Body Battles COVID-19

A powerful immune reaction called a cytokine storm is claiming the lives of some coronavirus patients. Illustration: ingimage
Monday, April 13, 2020 - 8:00pm

You’ve probably heard that your best defenses against the coronavirus are washing your hands, practicing social distancing, and having a healthy immune system. It’s that last part—the part you can’t really control for sure—that may have you crossing your fingers.

A dysfunctional immune system, experts say, is one reason that COVID-19 has proven more deadly in older adults and people with certain pre-existing conditions. But it is not always that the immune system is weak. Sometimes the body’s immune response is powerful but so out-of-control that it ends up killing COVID-19 patients. What exactly is going on?

Immunologist Pilar Alcaide, the Kenneth and JoAnn G. Wellner Professor at Tufts University School of Medicine, says that because the coronavirus is so new, we don’t fully understand how it works yet. But researchers can draw on what they already know about the body’s response to viral infections.

Here, she talks about aging and immunity, why obesity can make COVID-19 more lethal, and a dangerous immune reaction called a cytokine storm that is claiming the lives of some coronavirus patients.

Read more on Tufts Now.