Here’s how your body gains immunity to coronavirus | Zania Stamataki

Unprecedented efforts and diverted resources mean we are fast learning about human defences against this new threat • Zania Stamataki is a viral immunologist

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As the daughter of an air force officer and a nurse, I am fascinated by defence systems. There is none more impressive than the human immune system, equipped as it is with a rich arsenal to defend against different types of pathogen. Viruses have evolved to trick, bypass and evade these defences. Our immune systems have, in turn, learned to recognise and deter these virus stealth tactics. In Covid-19, the enemy is a tiny piece of genetic material wearing a lipid coat and a protein crown.

So how is our immune system able to defend against viral infections, and how does this apply to Covid-19? The virus that causes Covid-19 is called severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (Sars-Cov-2), and was first detected in humans around five months ago. It is a coronavirus. “Corona”, in Latin, means crown. The virus is adorned with an outer layer of protein covered in spikes, like a crown. These spikes help the virus attach itself to target cells. The research community is fast learning about immunity to Covid-19, and we are also applying our knowledge of similar respiratory viruses to predict what to expect in this infection.

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