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Common cold combats Covid-19 (yale.edu)
153 points by walterbell 9 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 75 comments





Despite my deep desire to see modern medicine win out in this war against Covid, I find myself becoming increasingly blasé about these kinds of articles. Regardless of their supposed authority or the site/journal they’re from, subsequent headlines often disprove them.

Case in point: there is a raging disagreement about booster shots in the news over the past several weeks, and the conflicting statements drive me to news-weariness.


You are talking about two different topics.

The first case: this story is not an article. It's a press release, and I wish we would stop treating these like "scientific publications".

The second case: there is a real debate going on, on a global level: should we use vaccines for booster vaccinations, or shouldn't we first vaccinate the whole world to get control of the pandemic. This is not only a question of medicine, this is also global politics, the rich North versus the not so rich rest of the world, patents and corporations versus saving lifes – debate is inevitable.


Well, yes and no. While they are different topics, both are trying to present facts to back up their viewpoint. Is it a _fact_ that a rhinovirus infection helps fight Covid? Is it a _fact_ that booster shots are necessary, or is the current vaccine regimen sufficient? The facts seem to be changing in headlines faster than I can recall.

> Is it a _fact_ that booster shots are necessary, or is the current vaccine regimen sufficient?

The issue is that the words "necessary" and "sufficient" are left to the reader, and are deeply political.

Some people will argue that we must do every possible thing in our power to save every possible life, so even a 0.01% of increased protection would be enough to make booster shots "necessary" and the current regiment "insufficient".

Some other will accept loss of life, and will even call vaccine shots "unnecessary" since the vast majority of the population - especially the non fragile part - doesn't seem to suffer from covid. In their mind, our our natural immunity itself is "sufficient".

Most people arguing on this subject are actually not arguing over scientific arguments, but are arguing over their own position between those two extremes. And they throw in some numbers / quote experts to sound more scientific than they really are in the vain hope to convince the other part that they are somehow more "right".


I feel like you've actually managed to strawman both sides in this argument.

I think IMTDb’s point is that it is not the facts that are changing as different people argue for or against booster shots. They are arguing over whether they are “necessary” or “better used to fight variants” which are value judgements. this is a disagreement of which strategy to take, not about the facts.

These are two separate issues:

1. People (especially experts) are legitimately debating the facts, i.e. what the effect of a booster shot is (not "arguing", this is just the normal scientific process)

2. People also have to make a value judgement about whether we shouldn't now first vaccinate third-world countries instead of getting booster shots, based on our current understanding of 1 (although this isn't purely for ethical reasons, the world doesn't really want the virus to spread and mutate in other regions either)

And for both of these orthogonal issues, most people don't fall into any of the two extreme camps described in GP's post.


What you are calling fact is interpretation on statistic. But the statistics themself are fact. ex: number of case and hospitalization for vaccinated people vs unvaccinated people. So when you look at box ploy or histogram those are the facts.

The fact don’t change every week only the interpretation.

The only fact that we can say is really changing is the R0 value of the virus but this is expected because it change over time because of our actions!

It’s more like the current price of a company stock on the NeeYork stock exchange will change every week. It change when we get new data about that company and reinterpret how much it”s worth


> But the statistics themself are fact. ex: number of case and hospitalization for vaccinated people vs unvaccinated people.

I wish that as so.

The ‘factual’ statistics can be stretched however one wishes.

For example, what does it mean to be vaccinated? Or, for that matter, what does it mean to ‘hospitalized’? Does it mean Covid symptoms necessitated hospitalization? Or, perhaps, everyone in the hospital who tested positive? Does it include ‘recovered’ patients who, for unrelated reasons, are still in the hospital, albeit no longer in a Covid ward?

Etc.

The statistics for this entire fiasco have been garbage. I wish it were not so.

They certainly aren’t ‘facts’ as you suggest.


Third case: Natural immunity needs to be required part of the discussion on any/all pandemic planning.

Inoculate the whole world against a coronavirus.. preposterous. Aren't the current EUA shots for targeting the initial alpha strain?

Yes, it's impossible to produce, distribute and vaccinate eight billion people for a virus that mutates every few months and one that can persist in animal reservoirs.

When a virus "mutates" it doesn't replace its entire genetic code. A vaccine might work just as well against a new variant if the mutations are in an irrelevant area (e.g. outside the sequence that codes for the spike protein).

Yes it might and it's not all or nothing either. Just like natural immunity can lessen the degree of future mutated infections, vaccine shots can too.

The corona's spike protein though is a simple structure that will likely still infect (be able to get inside a cell) after many kinds of mutations - some of which won't be mitigated with previous vaccinations (mu is leaning this way).

Contrast this with polio which has a Tetris like key that must link up with complex cellular proteins in our cells to enter. Slight mutations in this render it unable to pass through the cell wall. It's why vaccinating for this is so effective and long lived.


the real question is : Am I less likely to be hospitalized when getting delta strain if I am vaccinated for alpha strain

Yes, whatever other issues people have with vaccines or especially the politics around them, vaccines do reduce the chance of serious disease. They seem to be less effective than resistance gained through infection, but do protect against delta.

> the real question is : Am I less likely to be hospitalized when getting delta strain if I am vaccinated for alpha strain

That question has been asked and answered ad nauseum, it's a resounding yes, especially for the mRNA vaccines.


Yes I think this has enough data to support less severity of illness with Delta. And because you are still able to be socially functional with the reduced severity, on average, you'll be out and about spreading it and keeping it alive and changing. This will be an issue when your vaccine immunity wanes and perhaps they don't dial in the next version of the booster to match or get it to you in time

It also depends how many months have elapsed since your last shot, more than five and it seems to be waning in Israel.

With, mu early indications seem to point towards it not working to reduce severity.


This is yet more evidence that living in overly sterile environments isn't good for overall health. We have a bad tendency to focus on specific narrow health goals while missing the big picture.

Hold on. Compared to the ancestral environment, we have:

* Much more sterile environments for fomites. We wash everything including our hands

* Much more sterile environments for water pathogens

* Much less sterile environments for respiratory viruses. We now have indoor sealed buildings that allow aerosols to build up. Ancestral humans would not have had this

It seems to me that we could plausibly use less sterility in terms of stuff we touch, but more sterility in terms of air.

Water seems fine as it is: you see some pretty bad results in places with water borne pathogens.

On what basis can you argue we evolved to have more respiratory pathogens than present, given the lack of indoor environments in the past?


When speaking of "ancient times" we should really define more precisely who do we talk about - there were a huge differences between say citizens of Ancient Rome and some tribesman culture of Amazonia in terms of exposure to the pathogens.

We nowadays live in more sterile conditions, but we also live in a way bigger communities than ever, with significantly more population mobility - which makes us on average potentially exposed to a much wider spectrum of different germs in one's lifetime than it was a case ever before. When modern ppl get in contact with isolated tribes, although they're living whole lives in totally non-sterile conditions, it's almost always the modern people who will make them sick, not the other way around.


That’s true, but the claim was that getting respiratory viruses is good for overall health, because sterility is bad.

Sure, our germs make isolated people sick, but are we healthier because of the respiratory viruses, or are we merely germier?

OP seems to be arguing the hygiene hypothesis applies to respiratory pathogens.


> This is yet more evidence that living in overly sterile environments isn't good for overall health.

You could make that argument but here it appears it's not a lasting immune response but an ephemeral one which requires an active rhinovirus infection and antigen response to be protective.

It's also not definitive and the article mentions the possibility of cytokine storms.


I am making an argument about overall long-term health, not about a specific, temporary immune response to SARS-CoV-2.

If 'exposure to the common cold at some point in the past' led to improved immune response to Covid then this would be evidence to support your point.

What this article is saying is that exposure to the cold virus at exactly the right point in time helps the immune system fight Covid. That's a small window that isn't overly helped by general exposure. You could even imagine it would be made worse - if we're all exposed to the cold all the time we've developed more immunity and this mechanism might not happen.


Oddly, stating it this way feels like a reasonable explanation for why kids were so spared. During cold season, they are continuously exposed, it seems.

I'm still sceptical of any broad generalization here.


I'm not sure how this information improves the fight against COVID. Is the argument that everyone should be constantly sick with a cold instead? How many people have a cold at any one time, and what are the odds those same people would be infected with COVID? There's also no mention of whether that would give lasting COVID immunity, or if it would just swing around for when the person isn't actively sick. I don't know if the Mr Burns method of fighting COVID is a particularly great idea.

I’m surprised to see people disparaging natural immunity. This news about the rhinovirus is great. We should not turn our backs on any method of reaching herd immunity. There was previous news that one of the coronavirus cold strains also provided good immune response to sars-cov2. And of course cov2 itself has proven to produce a very effective antibody response such that those for whom it is less dangerous than flu might consider trying to get infected (don’t take my words as medical advice; talk to your doctor!). I’d consider bringing my young kids to a ‘pox party’ to help get things under control, given the latest evidence. The only reason I don’t still is social pressure, but the science is getting pretty clear that this virus is more like chicken pox than we thought, including it’s age dependent effect curve.

Especially now that we’re seeing that the effect of current vaccines is waining over 6-12 months, it’s time to start thinking more widely as the first people with the vaccine are coming back into risk. Animal reservoir data suggests this choice might be forced anyway - we can’t go vaccinating all the bats.


> I’m surprised to see people disparaging natural immunity. This news about the rhinovirus is great. We should not turn our backs on any method of reaching herd immunity.

Nobody’s disparaging natural immunity, they just rightly said “I’m not sure this helps much”.

And it really doesn’t seem to, because all this research says is “if you’re infected with a rhinovirus at the exact right moment immediately before catching COVID, there might be an immune benefit (or it might trigger a cytokine storm). Catch the rhinovirus before or after that point, and there’s no immune benefit whatsoever”

Given the extremely narrow window of opportunity, you’d have to, somehow, carry a rhinovirus with you and dose yourself just before you caught COVID. It’s wildly impractical, and I can’t imagine why or how you would think this “gets us closer to herd immunity”. What the research does not claim is “having caught a cold at any point is protective against COVID”


> And it really doesn’t seem to, because all this research says is “if you’re infected with a rhinovirus at the exact right moment immediately before catching COVID, there might be an immune benefit (or it might trigger a cytokine storm). Catch the rhinovirus before or after that point, and there’s no immune benefit whatsoever”

That isn't what this says. This research looks at one aspect of the immune response (interferons), and concludes there's a benefit to up-regulating interferon response early in SARS-CoV2 infection.

You cannot leap to the conclusion that "there's no benefit whatsoever" in other situations. The research didn't look at other questions.


This doesn't seem like a treatment for covid yet, and no actual medicine is involved even though interferon is mentioned.

More like modern recognition of a natural interactive effect between micro-organisms which might have even predated humanity itself.

>“There are hidden interactions between viruses that we don’t quite understand, and these findings are a piece of the puzzle we are just now looking at,” Foxman said.

This could be a very promising area of study and a major step toward understanding not just covid.

Maybe even things like phage therapy where certain viruses attack and kill bacteria.

Plus when you think about it Staph is a deadly bacteria which can sometimes get out-of-control, but there are variants of it too and supposedly a major percentage of the population carries it at all times without apparent ill effect.

What if that Staph is one that fights back against a virus and gives some protection against covid itself? May be far-fetched but one thing's for sure, the collection of the additional data would be nearly frictionless. Especially compared to lots of other data struggles.

You have to figure that micro-organisms have been fighting against each other for a while now, and could very well have had millions of years to refine their tactics before mammals even came along.

If for no other reason than sheer boredom.

Plus things that have survived have been at somewhat of a stalemate for at least a few millennia, penicillin was a natural bacteriotoxin that had been produced by a type of mold the whole time, just waiting to be discovered.


> I’m surprised to see people disparaging natural immunity. This news about the rhinovirus is great. We should not turn our backs on any method of reaching herd immunity.

I'm not disparaging, I'm asking if it actually grants any. Does the body actually learn to fight COVID if it's just throw up defenses for the Cold?

> I’d consider bringing my young kids to a ‘pox party’ to help get things under control, given the latest evidence.

Pox parties only worked because the parents and grandparents were already immune. Instead you're creating your own little super-spreader event that will move through whoever they come in contact with. People wouldn't have done Pox parties if they thought they were going to kill grandma with them. Also, please keep in mind that, like chicken pox, while many children will be OK, some don't, so much so that children's hospitals currently need help[1].

[1] https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2021/0...


> Pox parties only worked because the parents and grandparents were already immune. Instead you're creating your own little super-spreader event that will move through whoever they come in contact with

I'm not suggesting we do it willy nilly. This summer could have been a great opportunity to organize camps with immune adults overseeing such events.

412 people under 18 in the US died from COVID, whereas non-covid pnumonia is 924 (both in spite of measures to control respiratory viruses). It's pretty clear that the benefit of such parties on older people would outweigh the cost to the kids, especially when you factor in the exploding teen suicide rate attributable in part to the lockdowns affecting social lives.[1]

[0] https://data.cdc.gov/NCHS/Provisional-COVID-19-Deaths-by-Sex...

[1] https://fee.org/articles/cdc-reports-51-increase-in-suicide-...


"The findings in this report are subject to at least nine limitations. First, these data are not nationally representative. Second, facility participation varies within and across states; however, data were only analyzed from facilities that reported consistently over the study period, thus minimizing the impact of reporting fluctuations on resultant trends. Third, differences in availability, coding practices, and reporting of chief complaints and discharge diagnoses from facilities might influence results returned by the syndrome definition. Fourth, distinguishing initial visits from follow-up visits for the same event was not possible, so the number of ED visits for suspected suicide attempts might be lower than presented. Fifth, NSSP race and ethnicity data were not available at the national level for this analysis at the time it was conducted, so analyses of differences among racial/ethnic groups was not possible. Sixth, these data likely underrepresent the true prevalence of suspected suicide attempts because persons with less severe injuries might be less likely to seek emergency care during the pandemic when many persons avoided medical settings to reduce the risk for contracting COVID-19. Seventh, the suspected suicide attempt syndrome definition excludes some, but not all, visits for nonsuicidal self-harm. Eighth, the sharp decline in all ED visits during the pandemic likely affected the number and proportion of visits for suspected suicide attempts (6). Finally, this analysis was not designed to determine whether a causal link existed between these trends and the COVID-19 pandemic."

> I'm not disparaging, I'm asking if it actually grants any. Does the body actually learn to fight COVID if it's just throw up defenses for the Cold?

Depends on the cold, I think. This rhinovirus might just be priming the immune system. There are coronavirus colds that might provide antibodies[0]

[0] https://www.nih.gov/news-events/nih-research-matters/immune-...


It seems that prior exposure to common cold coronaviruses doesn't provide significant immunity against COVID-19.

https://www.pennmedicine.org/news/news-releases/2021/februar...


right, the first link was talking about t-cell immunity, I was wrong to say 'antibodies'.

I don't think it does anything to help in the fight against COVID, but it does highlight potential unanticipated adverse effects of COVID mitigation measures -- e.g., what's going to be the impact on the immune systems of kids that end up being "socially-distanced" for N years?

From what the first 5 weeks of my son returning to school in person, very little. Even with required masks the common cold is still making its way through his classroom. We know this because each kid basically is out for a day to get tested for COVID than comes back. So instead of ten kids getting sick all at once, it's progressing through one or two at a time.

Our current measures are blunting the spread of germs but by no means have we managed to hit a 'sterile' environment where there is no spread.


> what's going to be the impact on the immune systems of kids that end up being "socially-distanced" for N years?

Do you have kids? They're ... pretty good at getting germs, masks/social distancing or not. When they get exposed to a pathogen is largely luck anyway.

Nobody's in a sterile environment here. These kids are touching/licking stuff, picking noses, rubbing eyes, you name it.


No kids yet; appreciate the comment -- your perspective + the sibling comment make me think my concern was probably unwarranted.

My comment was about overall health, not specifically about COVID-19. There is more to health than fighting one specific virus.

The good news is that, if you have a bad cold, catching covid-19 won't "do you in."

I would further add that not only do we often have a tendency to focus on specific narrow health goals while missing the big picture, but it sometimes seems we are doing things (though perhaps in some cases unwittingly without the benefit of hindsight) at the expense of broader, long-term health goals as well.

Maybe this is really just our human nature and hubris ultimately doing us in. We focus on trying to resolve short-term, acute situations where the cost-benefit calculations are perhaps more tangible and easier to measure and understand, but as a result we ultimately fail to properly consider the possible longer-term costs of our actions, even if those may turn out to be more damaging (by some measure) in the long term. In the pursuit of an ephemeral benefit today, the negative and possibly persistent effects of our actions get massively discounted, with the burdens of cleaning up after our actions ultimately placed on our descendants. If solving some problem today causes some problems down the road, then we seem so sure today that somebody else will manage to figure it out then, ad infinitum. The ratchet can only tighten things so far before something breaks.


Problem is of course that it's not always possible to know long term effects when you make a decision on some more immediate benefit. So it's not like you're even making an informed trade-off.

As an example, I'd wager that the rise in childhood asthma/allergies is related to something that was thought to be (and maybe actually is) beneficial for children's health in the short term.

When I was a kid, there were a few people I knew of who had chronic issues with asthma and allergies but it seemed pretty unusual. Today, it seems like half the kids on my kids sport teams have inhalers or epi-pens or both.


I heard a few months ago that UK infant ICU was in a dangerous spot because babies had caught all the bugs. Someone born in March 2020 would hardly have been outside until they were 1, so would be getting their first exposure to respiratory illnesses late. Babies usually get a slow, trickling exposure. By getting exposed to so many minor illnesses at once, their immune systems overloaded and they ended up in ICU with 4 or 5 things at once.

Do you have a source? Would love to learn more. We have a child that’s 8 months old in a similar situation. Need to prepare.

Not GP, but anecdotally know that there are way more respiratory viruses now (summer in the US) than usual.

For data, you might look at RSV trends compared to usual. (Usual is winter spike).

https://www.cdc.gov/surveillance/nrevss/rsv/state.html#NY


No firm data, my mother is high up in UK health policy so I heard from her.

The best thing for your child is for them to socialise as much as possible with other kids. That means they will get sick. In normal times, 2-3% of babies end up in hospital with respiratory infections at some point. Obviously in the short run it sucks, but long run it's healthy.


Why would they have hardly been outside? Outside is the best place to be w/r/t COVID.

As in, outside of the social bubble. Usually pre-school kids still have fairly active 'social calendars', with nursery, parent/child meetups, being dragged to family events. COVID stopped these, which stopped transmission.

In some places in the world you literally cannot go outside. We've been stuck inside for 4 weeks right now in Da Nang, Vietnam. We can go to the balcony, but that doesn't count, of course.

Covered sewerage is one of the most significant health benefits of modern cities.

How much of a bad thing is a good thing?


It's amazing how many people think linearly and are unable to zoom out and look at the system as a whole.

This is a symptom of the reductionist trend in much of modern medicine which focuses primarily on treating specific conditions with individual small-molecule drugs. That's not a bad approach necessarily; it makes the experiments easy and has produced excellent results in many areas. But it seems to be running out of steam with most of the low-hanging fruit already picked. Return on drug development costs is trending lower.

In order to make major new advances we'll need to go back and develop a better theoretical understanding of how all the moving pieces fit together through basic research.


Probably helps explain why covid hit so hard in nursing homes.

nursing homes are filled with people knocking on death's door. They have degraded cardiac and lung function, aged immune systems, most are on lots of medications. All respiratory (i.e. easily transmissible) diseases hit nursing homes hard.

Correct. Other "common cold" coronaviruses have a high fatality rate in nursing homes. Realistically there's not much we can do to protect nursing home patients from highly infectious respiratory viruses. Cutting them off from human contact in sterile bubbles inflicts terrible psychological harm.

https://wwwnc.cdc.gov/eid/article/24/10/18-0862_article


> Cutting them off from human contact in sterile bubbles inflicts terrible psychological harm.

Which is exactly what society did for more than a year. Even assisted living places were cut off from outside visitors. It’s cruel and inhumane.


That’s gotta be one of the most useless science illustration I’ve seen. Surely they intended to also show the rhinoviruses in the right image, but never got around to it?

The modern equivalent of the comic book ad for an anti-zit popper: it clearly works because the second drawing of the kid has fewer dots!

[flagged]


Would you please stop breaking the site guidelines?

https://news.ycombinator.com/newsguidelines.html


This is a great approach to the unvaccinated. I guarantee many of them would be willing to get a "natural" cold rather than the vaccine.

gonna be very hard due to restrictions and general distancing

This was suspected early on in the pandemic. Before the vaccine was FDA approved I publicly wondered if we could just give people one of these "colds" that protects against COVID-19. My doctor friends said that would never pass any ethics board. I also suspect there would not be a good way for pharmaceutical companies to make any money on this more natural approach. Today the future looks like a carousel ride of booster shots and people are wearing masks again. My person approach, which would never be endorsed by public health officials, is to be fully vaccinated, not wear a mask and be in close proximity to people in the hope to get a breakthrough case of COVID-19. I want a mild case to build natural immunity, which studies show provides better immunity than vaccines, and get off a booster shot carousel and put COVID-19 behind me.

The big problem with any deliberate-inoculation strategy: dosage.

In the vaccination you received, there was a controlled dosage of the active ingredient. This had been tested in thousands of people and is known to give a certain amount of immune response and an acceptable amount of side effects.

When you get have contact with someone who is infectious there is a huge variation in how much viral load they might have and how much they shed. So the first person you mean might only "gift" you a tiny dose that doesn't improve your post-vaccination immunity much at all. The next day you might meet a super contagious person, get basically drenched in viral particles, and then have a breakthrough case that makes you sick for weeks.

It's the sort of "clever hack" that probably sounds appealing to a lot of software engineers but is a terrible public health plan.


What you're proposing is pretty much how the first vaccine was invented. (Jenner gave people cow pocks because that created immunity against the much more severe small pocks.)

That was great at the time, but today's vaccines are just a much better and more targetted way of creating immunity.


Having everyone have a common cold whole year round (we would have to get infected with new strains every few days) seems like 10x worse then just ignoring the pandemic and letting everyone get covid

You're immune system would wipe out covid pretty fast if you had a cold year round. Iga was shown early as one of the most immediate responders that kills covid. in fact that's what our vaccine is trying to get your body to coax out when it sees the spike protein.

If you are under 60 and not in a vulnerable group and got two shots you are already done. Biontech/Moderna both offer pretty good protection against getting seriously ill.

So no need to get Covid the "natural way". If you are fully vaccinated, you are fully vaccinated. As long as there is no new escape variant you are fine already.

The third shot might be pretty optional for young people, we will have to see. Still even if necessary, it is not like you have to get a shot every week, the third will probably last much longer.


> I want a mild case to build natural immunity, which studies show provides better immunity than vaccines.

Do you have a source for this? I feel like many articles/studies I've read state the opposite, i.e., vaccine immunity > natural immunity.


You might still get COVID every year then, or get various strains per year, like the flu. So COVID-19 won't be "behind you", but "with you forever <3".

silly life; always finding ways~

That was my hope too- unfortunately I don't live alone so can't go out and do it. And it probably is smarter to do what we can to avoid it as we still don't really understand the long-term effects of this nasty virus, just that it can have some bad ones for some people.

A $20 injection for 70% (for now) of about 8B people is around $100B which no longer carries any legal risk. That’s a lot of incentive to overcome.



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