Self-isolation may increase susceptibility to COVID-19

July 08, 2020

Months of self-isolation and social distancing have taken their toll. Sheldon Cohen, the Robert E. Doherty Professor of Psychology at Carnegie Mellon University, has produced a body of research that suggests that interpersonal stressors many are experiencing during quarantine are associated with an increased vulnerability to upper respiratory viruses and perhaps coronavirus. A summary of his work is available online in the July 8 issue of Perspectives on Psychological Science.

"We know little about why some of the people exposed to the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, are more likely to develop the disease than others. However, our research on psychological factors that predict susceptibility to other respiratory viruses may provide clues to help identify factors that matter for COVID-19," said Cohen.

Cohen has spent his career examining the impact of different behavioral, social and psychological factors on the development of upper respiratory illnesses. Through a
"The focus on the pandemic up until now has been changing behaviors to avoid exposure to the virus," said Cohen. "In our work, we intentionally exposed people to cold and influenza viruses and studied whether psychological and social factors predict how effective the immune system is in suppressing infection, or preventing or mitigating the severity of illness."

Cohen's work has pointed to the importance of social and psychological factors in the development of infection and illness. This work may hold clues to the health implications of the on-going quarantine.

To slow the spread of coronavirus, many communities issued stay-at-home measures, increasing interpersonal stressors, like loneliness, loss of employment and familial conflict. According to Cohen, these stressors may be powerful predictors of how a person will respond if exposed to coronavirus.

In a series of studies, he found participants experiencing interpersonal stressors had a greater chance of developing an upper respiratory illnesses when exposed to cold viruses. Cohen believes interpersonal stressors might play a similar role in response to the coronavirus causing COVID-19, increasing a person's vulnerability to infection and illness.

In addition, both social and psychological stressors increased the production of cytokines, molecules that promote inflammation in response to infection. In Cohen's work, psychological and social stressors were associated with an overproduction of pro-inflammatory cytokines in response to cold and influenza viruses. In turn, this excess of inflammation was associated with an increased risk of becoming ill. Similarly, research on COVID-19 has shown that producing an excess of pro-inflammatory cytokines is associated with more severe COVID-19 infections suggesting the hypothesis that a stress-triggered excessive cytokine response might similarly contribute to excessive inflammation and symptoms in COVID-19.

While social and psychological stressors increase susceptibility, Cohen's work also indicates that social integration and social support offer a protective shield against respiratory infection and illness.

"If you have a diverse social network (social integration), you tend to take better care of yourself (no smoking, moderate drinking, more sleep and exercise)," said Cohen. "Also if people perceive that those in their social network will help them during a period of stress or adversity (social support) then it attenuates the effect of the stressor and is less impactful on their health."
-end-
The article is titled, "Psychosocial Vulnerabilities to Upper Respiratory Infectious Illness: Implications for Susceptibility to Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)." Cohen received support from National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the National Institute of Mental Health. Cohen also received support from the National Institutes of Health through the University of Pittsburgh Clinical and Translational Science Institute and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Socioeconomic Status and Health.

Carnegie Mellon University

Related Coronavirus Articles from Brightsurf:

Chemists discover the structure of a key coronavirus protein
MIT chemists have determined the molecular structure of a protein found in the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

Plasma treatments quickly kill coronavirus on surfaces
Researchers from UCLA believe using plasma could promise a significant breakthrough in the fight against the spread of COVID-19.

Cornea appears to resist infection from novel coronavirus
Some doctors have worried that the novel coronavirus may be able to infect people by getting into their eyes.

Study provides clues on curbing the aggressive nature of coronavirus
Recent study by Estonian researchers in University of Tartu explains how coronavirus is activated before attacking the cell and what could help to impede that.

Coronavirus mutation may have made it more contagious
A study involving more than 5,000 COVID-19 patients in Houston finds that the virus that causes the disease is accumulating genetic mutations, one of which may have made it more contagious.

Scientists map structure of potent antibody against coronavirus
Scientists at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle have shown that a potent antibody from a COVID-19 survivor interferes with a key feature on the surface of the coronavirus's distinctive spikes and induces critical pieces of those spikes to break off in the process.

Coronavirus volunteers: Greater satisfaction thanks to online platforms
Shortly after the lockdown began, a huge number of volunteers signed up to help people in coronavirus risk groups - primarily via online platforms.

Population currently sees coronavirus as the greatest health risk
The coronavirus is currently the population's main concern. More than a quarter of consumers perceive the virus as the greatest health risk.

Coronavirus: Study finds further door opener into the cell
The coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 is known to infect cells via the receptor ACE2.

Repurposing drugs for a pan-coronavirus treatment
The study identifies drug targets common to all three coronaviruses (SARS-CoV-2, SARS-CoV-1, and MERS-CoV) and potential drugs that could be repurposed as COVID-19 treatments.

Read More: Coronavirus News and Coronavirus Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.