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Interpersonal stressors related to self-isolation increase risk of COVID-19

To slow the spread of coronavirus, many communities issued stay-at-home measures, increasing interpersonal stressors, like loneliness, loss of employment and familial conflict.

Being isolated can affect you psychologically and this, in turn, may bring down your immunity and increase your risk of many ailments.

Written by Jahnavi Sarma |Updated : July 11, 2020 11:06 AM IST

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, scientists have laid emphasis on the importance of self-isolation as a means to contain the spread of the virus that has caused such devastation across the world. Of course, other precautionary measures like frequent washing of hands and wearing a face mask are important too. But self-isolation reduces your risk of exposure to the virus. This is particularly essential for the elderly and people with underlying health conditions. But this also comes with its own unique risks. Being isolated can affect you psychologically and this, in turn, may bring down your immunity and increase your risk of many ailments.

According to a new study, time spent in isolation may actually increase the vulnerability to upper respiratory viruses and perhaps coronavirus. Researchers from the Carnegie Mellon University in the US say that very little is known about why some of the people exposed to the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, are more likely to develop the disease than others. But they add that their research on psychological factors that predict susceptibility to other respiratory viruses may provide clues to help identify factors that matter for COVID -19. To slow the spread of coronavirus, many communities issued stay-at-home measures, increasing interpersonal stressors, like loneliness, loss of employment and familial conflict. These stressors may be powerful predictors of how a person will respond if exposed to coronavirus.

Interpersonal stressors may trigger respiratory illnesses

In the course of their study, researchers saw that participants experiencing interpersonal stressors had a greater chance of developing upper respiratory illnesses when exposed to cold viruses. This seems to suggest that interpersonal stressors might play a similar role in response to the coronavirus causing COVID -19, increasing a person's vulnerability to infection and illness.

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Through a series of viral challenge studies, the researcher examined how such factors can affect whether or not healthy adults exposed to respiratory viruses become ill. Researcher focused on eight viral strains that cause common cold and two that cause influenza. They intentionally exposed people to cold and influenza viruses and studied whether psychological and social factors predict how effective the immune system is in suppressing infection or preventing or mitigating the severity of illness.

Social, psychological stressors stimulate cytokines production

In addition, both social and psychological stressors increased the production of cytokines, molecules that promote inflammation in response to infection. These stressors were associated with an overproduction of pro-inflammatory cytokines in response to cold and influenza viruses. In turn, this excess of inflammation was associated with an increased risk of becoming ill.

Stress from self-isolation can cause excessive inflammation

Similarly, research on COVID -19 has shown that producing an excess of pro-inflammatory cytokines is associated with more severe infections suggesting the hypothesis that a stress-triggered excessive cytokine response may similarly contribute to excessive inflammation and symptoms in Covid-19.

This study underlines the importance of social and psychological factors in the development of infection and illness. It may hold clues to the health implications of the on-going quarantine.

(With inputs from IANS)

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