What Happens When We Get Infected with COVID-19? What Can We Do?

Adventist expert discusses the effects of the disease, vaccines, and the immune system.

Inter-American Division News
What Happens When We Get Infected with COVID-19? What Can We Do?

As part of the Inter-American Division (IAD) Online Symposium on Freedom of Conscience and the Vaccine Mandate, Carlos Casiano, professor of microbiology, molecular genetics, and medicine at Loma Linda University, shared what the COVID-19 virus is doing in infected people and what one can do to prevent infection. 

Puerto Rico-born Casiano, a renowned researcher who recently presented in Germany on the topic, shared information and advice as part of the opening night of the virtual symposium on November 19, 2021.

A Deadly Pandemic

Casiano acknowledged that, sadly, the COVID-19 pandemic, which so far has caused at least five million deaths and produced health complications for many more people, “is not going away. The virus is spreading fast, particularly among the unvaccinated, and especially in countries with cold climate,” he noted.

At the same time, data shows that more than 95 percent of the hospitalized are unvaccinated, he said, noting that COVID-19 is the third most deadly pandemic of the past 100 years, after the Spanish flu and HIV/AIDS.

“The common denominator of the pandemic is that it includes viruses that mutate rapidly and evade the immune system,” Casiano said.

He explained that several types of coronaviruses cause the common cold. The one producing COVID-19 is the SARS-CoV-2, or severe acute respiratory syndrome caused by a coronavirus. “It is very easy to get infected with the SARS-CoV-2, especially in closed spaces,” he explained. “So, a person, even asymptomatic, can transmit the virus, and another person can catch it, sometimes even if immunized. It takes only one person to pass the virus to the rest.”

Casiano acknowledged that the COVID variants are the result of too many infections and too little vaccination. Low rates of vaccinations trigger high rates of infections, which contribute to the emergence of variants.

What Happens Inside Our Bodies

But what happens inside your bodies when you get infected with the COVID-19 virus?

Casiano said that the virus gets inside the body’s cells. But to do that, it needs receptors, which do not depend on the immune system. They depend on your genes, he said. “Some people have a low level of receptors, and others have a high level of receptors. Those who have a low level of receptors tend to express less severe symptoms of the disease,” he said.

He explained that be it the flu or COVID-19, the T cells and the B cells react to fight the virus. T cells also trigger dendritic and other phagocytic cells to fight the spike in the virus’s protein. In simple terms, the immune system creates antibodies to neutralize the virus. They take care of the infection.

But there are some caveats, Casiano said. “This process is not instantaneous; it takes two to three weeks the first time you are exposed to the virus. The second time you are exposed to the virus, the process is much shorter — three days to a week,” he shared.

The Role of Inflammation

As part of this process, the body releases what scientists call inflammatory cytokines, Casiano said. “To fight the infection, the immune system has to activate inflammation,” he noted. “It has to allow inflammation, because inflammation allows the white blood cells to work and do their job.”

He explained that the COVID-19 virus promotes a higher activation of inflammation, so the body develops a “cytokine storm,” where the virus is inducing the immune system to inflame the whole body. “Many people who are dying from COVID are dying because of hormonal insufficiency, due to a high state of inflammation, or [because of] damage of other organs due to this cytokine storm,” he acknowledged.

Casiano said that since receptors are androgen-regulated, the reaction is connected to the level of testosterone. Men with high testosterone levels sometimes lose their hair earlier than others (what is known as alopecia). As a consequence, a relationship has been found between alopecia and more severe symptoms of the disease. Women who have high levels of androgen tend to develop cysts in their ovaries. These women also tend to have more severe symptoms. The same with people who are obese, who are immuno-compromised, or have untreated diabetes, he said.

Once the virus is inside the cell, it releases genetic material that is released into the body, Casiano said. “Those who are not immunized carry lots of viral particles in their bodies and then pass that to other people who are not immunized, and this creates an incubator for the virus to constantly change,” he said. “The more human bodies available to infect, the higher the chances of new variants arising.”

How to Control the Infection

How do we control this? Casiano asked rhetorically. “Via immunization. With more immunization, there are fewer particles circulating and fewer variants,” he said.

But how does our immune system respond to a foreign infection agent?

Casiano shared that when you get infected with a disease such as tetanus COVID-19, the body can mount an immune response, but it takes the body three to four weeks to do it. The virus, on the other hand, is much faster and can kill you before your body is ready to respond. It is the reason we need immunization, to help the body mount a defense before the virus attack.

“Vaccines may not prevent attack by bacteria or virus but do prevent severe disease and death from the infection,” he explained.

According to Casiano, a major problem with COVID-19 is that it starts destroying your internal organs if you get infected. It starts destroying your lungs, liver, kidneys, eyes, and nose, among others. “Perhaps you may say, ‘Well, I had COVID-19 and only mild symptoms.’ Yes, you may have a low level of receptors and a good immune system. But you can also have a good immune system, and the virus can take that to its advantage by enhancing inflammation that can lead to multiple organ failure,” Casiano said.

He explained that COVID-19 might kill you, but if you survive moderate to severe disease, you may still suffer the consequences for a long time. He listed some of those consequences, including acute respiratory distress, pulmonary deficiency, chronic fatigue, autoimmune conditions, brain fog, vascular disease, thrombosis, and heart problems.

The Role of the Vaccine

Casiano noted that the COVID-19 vaccine boosts the immune system without causing the cytokine storm. “Studies keep showing that the vaccines are significantly effective in preventing severe disease, hospitalizations, and death,” he said.

Of course, all vaccines have side effects, and the COVID-19 vaccine is no exception, Casiano pointed out. “Side effects of the COVID-19 vaccine include drowsiness, chills, and pain,” he said. He explained that the most severe side-effects documented are, among others, anaphylaxis (an allergic reaction; 2-5 per million) and thrombotic events (3-4 per million). But, on the other hand, he said, the chances of dying from COVID is 2 in 100 (2 percent), and more than 50 percent have prolonged side effects.

Casiano mentioned some of the debunked myths about the COVID vaccines. “As a scientist, I can assure you they do not contain microchips, magnets, foreign DNA that can alter yours, live viruses that can infect you, microparticles that can cause autism or autoimmune conditions, heavy metals such as mercury or aluminum, carcinogens such as formaldehyde, egg, or other animal products,” he said. He noted that in the United States, Loma Linda University strongly supports COVID vaccination. AdventHealth, a health-care organization based in Florida, does too. The same goes for Adventist Health, based in California, and Adventist HealthCare, based in Maryland. It is also strongly supported by the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Questions from Viewers

In the last part of Casiano’s presentation, some of the viewers sent questions that Casiano and Peter Landless, health ministries director of the Adventist Church, answered to the thousands who followed the online event.

Some asked, “If I had COVID, do I still need to get vaccinated?”

By way of an answer, Casiano explained that it depends on when you got COVID. “If you had COVID in the last few months, maybe you still have immunity. We haven’t determined yet how long immunity lasts.” He acknowledged that there are reports of people who had COVID six or seven months ago and now are seeing their antibody levels go down.

“What about mandates?” another viewer asked.

Landless made clear that mandates are not made by the church. These are made by governments and organizations. He noted, “When the mandate is in favor of public health, the [official church] document states that the church can support the mandates that relate to public health measures to improve and benefit the health of the people. At the same time, the refusal to take it should not be seen as a religious reason.”

In his closing remarks, Casiano encouraged church leaders and members to keep informed about the topic and make decisions that benefit us personally and protect others. “Together, we can stop COVID-19 suffering and deaths!” Casiano said. “Let’s continue saving lives!”

The original version of this story was posted on the Inter-American Division news site.

Inter-American Division News