Many COVID-19 patients are discovering a phenomenon that those diagnosed with chronic Lyme disease,
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), and other post-infection syndromes have known for decades: that bizarre, seemingly unconnected symptoms across multiple body systems can persist for months, if not years after an acute infection. Doctors still don't fully understand why this happens, or how to treat it.
Fortunately, pioneering integrative doctors and practitioners of different backgrounds have made great, though unheralded progress in understanding and treating what can be a devastating, debilitating condition seemingly without much hope of relief.
Based on their findings, let's try to unpack what's happening with many of these cases. At its core, a post-viral or post-infection syndrome is a state of perpetual immune dysregulation that can negatively impact multiple systems in the body, including the nervous system, respiratory system, digestive system, and many others. The original infection may have passed the acute phase but may or may not continue on in a chronic phase. Either way, the exaggerated inflammatory response can continue in an autoimmune state that can cause symptoms such as persistent nervous system problems like mood and sleep disturbances, exaggerated allergic and histamine responses in the respiratory and digestive systems, skin rashes, and many other seemingly unconnected symptoms.
The immune response is complex, and involves a number of different immune cells and chemicals that are used for triggering a wide variety of reactions, called cytokines and chemokines. Some of these are associated with an acute infectious response (like acute inflammation), others with more long-term responses (the production of antibodies). Acute inflammatory responses can sometimes spin rapidly out of control, which we see in the 'cytokine storm' produced by some infections, like influenza and the current coronavirus. The acute inflammatory chemicals can cause widespread tissue damage, and release acute phase reactants that can trigger dangerous coagulation problems, and many others.
If the body's immune response is competent to begin with, these infections can dispatched without resulting in a massive chemical immune response - but if immunity is compromised, these chemical immune signals get louder and louder, and cause more and more damage while the body attempts to get the infection under control.
Once the acute phase of an infection has passed, sometimes the immune cells that produce these inflammatory cytokines and chemokines do not go back to a healthy, regulated state, but rather continue to produce inflammatory products, leading to a chronic state of inflammation and dysfunction that manifests as the wide variety of symptoms we discussed above.
So what is the solution? Rebalancing the immune response. The cells responsible for shutting off these inflammatory chemicals after an infection are called Regulatory T Cells (T-regs), which are suppressed during an acute infection but must reassert immune suppression once it is over (if, indeed, the infection has been cleared completely - sometimes that's not the case). There are many peer-reviewed studies that show a variety of botanical agents and supplemental nutrients like Vitamin D can help achieve immune modulation, reshaping the immune response to shut down excessive inflammation when it is present, and increase immune competence and proper immune balance between different white blood cell groups depending on the condition. After all, if there are too many T-reg cells causing immune suppression and too few inflammatory cytokines, it can increase the risks of certain cancers.
The path to recovering from a post-infectious inflammatory syndrome can be a complicated one, but with the right help, correct understanding, and properly applied therapeutic tools, it can be achieved.