Your baby’s naughty nose is annoying — but it may also be auspicious.
Young germs may help stave off severe COVID-19 in their parents, according to a new major study from Kaiser Permanente of Northern California patients, released this week.
Using Kaiser’s vast collection of health information, scientists found that adults without children with COVID-19 were 49% more likely to be hospitalized and 76% more likely to be admitted to an intensive care unit than infected adults of the same ages and health history. Young children at home.
“These were really amazing results,” said lead author Dr. Matthew Solomon, who is based in Auckland, an investigator in the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research and a cardiologist at The Permanente Medical Group.
“One possible explanation is that continued exposure to colds helps people develop some immunity to these viruses,” Solomon said. The study, based on the medical records of 3.1 million Californians, was published in the latest issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The study was conducted in the first year of the epidemic, before vaccines were available, so none of the patients were vaccinated.
Because the study is based on population data, it only shows an association – not a causal relationship. More research is needed to establish whether and how part of the immune response to SARS-CoV-2 is imprinted by previous colds.
Doctors say parents still need to get vaccinated. Even if exposure to children with germs may confer some partial immunity, parents may get sick and die. Nearly 200,000 children in the United States have lost their parents to the pandemic.
The Kaiser study focuses on severe disease. The common cold is not proven to protect against COVID infection. In fact, parents of children younger than 5 were already more likely to be infected, compared to people without children.
If you’re thinking, “But can’t they just wear a mask?” You didn’t raise a young child during the pandemic.
But the Kaiser study found that once infected, parents of young children were less likely to develop severe illness. This trend has not been seen in parents of older children and adolescents.
This suggests that there may be some degree of cross-protection from exposure to related members of the large family of coronaviruses.
“I have a phobia of germs…Even before the pandemic, I always carried Purell in my car,” said Dublin-based Stephanie Basilas, a substitute teacher in the primary school and mother of two young children.
“But we go to school. We get exposed to people…so everyone has colds all the time,” she said.
Immediately after the mask mandate was dropped last March, Basillas and her 6-year-old son contracted COVID, despite being vaccinated. “It was very nice, compared to everything else,” she recalls. “His right back bounced. I was a little sadder…but I had cases of the flu that were a lot worse.”
“I know they have to be exposed to certain things,” she said. “We are fine with that. You have to have something that your immune system responds to.”
Almost from the start of the pandemic, scientists have wondered how exposure to seasonal coronaviruses affects infection with SARS-CoV-2. Four seasonal coronaviruses — two of which are beta coronaviruses, such as SARS-CoV-2 — cause about 30% of colds.
But overall results have been inconsistent, because the scope of studies, participants, and methods have varied, according to Report In the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Seven reports concluded that a high level of common immunity against the Corona virus was beneficial, while four reported that it was harmful, and three reported that it had no effect, according to Maureen McGargill of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis.
In one study, seasonal pre-existing antibodies increased after infection with SARS-CoV-2 – an immune phenomenon known as ‘boosting back’. There may also be protection from a different arm of the immune system, including T cells, which present a broader and more persistent antibody response.
The Kaiser team launched the study after discussing the question: Why is there so much variance in the impact of COVID-19 on people?
“It’s a question that has been haunting researchers, clinicians, caregivers and health care policy personnel for the entire pandemic,” Solomon said.
They turned to the medical records of Kaiser patients who live throughout central and northern California, from San Jose and Santa Rosa to Sacramento and Fresno.
It has long been known that young children are germ hatcheries, catching about six to eight colds a year – then all these insects are brought home. Solomon said it makes sense to look at parents’ experiences with COVID.
“This is really a small piece of a very big puzzle that scientists are working on,” Solomon said.
“This work helps us better understand COVID-19 and who may be at risk of severe outcomes, but it certainly isn’t a definitive answer,” he said.