The Covid-19 pandemic is but the most striking example of how the laws of nature are affecting the lives of ordinary working class people. As we will show, we as workers cannot afford to simply leave it up to the experts to understand what is happening. In previous articles, oaklandsocialist has shown why as far as the origins of this disease. Here, we discuss the end result: Are environmental factors involved in deaths from Covid-19? We are not academically trained scientists, but any worker can understand some of the basics. We just have to put in the time to do the research. Here are some basics:
20% of deaths among young adults
Covid-19 is an infectious disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which is one of the coronavirus family of viruses. Almost all available evidence indicates that this virus originated in bats and jumped from there to some other animal to humans, although exactly how is not definitely known. What we have to start asking, though, is what is the reason for such widely varied responses in those who are infected? Yes, the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions are at greater risk for severe illness and/or death. But according to Webmd “an unexpected 20% of deaths occurred among adults aged 20-64 years, and 20% of those hospitalized were aged 20-44 years.”
Why is that happening? A CNN article on the issue is typical. It gives some examples of typically healthy young adults who died. Then it reports on some research into why the disease proved fatal for people like them. Typically, the research focuses on genetics. We say “typically” because a huge amount of health research today focuses on genetics nowadays. That includes cancer research, despite the fact that it is commonly accepted that environmental factors are the most common element of cancer. How about for Covid-19 related deaths?
One of the causes of death in Covid-19 patients is not the virus itself; rather, it’s how the body reacts to the virus. As we know, the body’s immune system reacts to pathogens (germs) by attacking them. In some cases of Covid-19 deaths, though, what apparently happens is that the immune system goes into overdrive and doesn’t know how to stop. It ends up attacking the body’s own organs in what’s called a “cytokine storm”.
A NY Times article explained: “In some cases… the immune system keeps raging long after the virus is no longer a threat. It continues to release cytokines that keep the body on an exhausting full alert. In their misguided bid to keep the body safe, these cytokines attack multiple organs including the lungs and liver, and may eventually lead to death.”
Why are some people apparently more susceptible to this overreaction? An article in NPR links cytokine storms to “primary HLH” or hemophagocytic lymphohistiocytosis.
One article explains that HLH is “not a single disease”, but a group of diseases. “In healthy people (the authors write), certain types of white blood cells called cytotoxic T lymphocytes (CTLs) and natural killer (NK) help fight infections and cancer by making cytokines. Cytokines are chemicals that activate other immune cells. In patients with HLH, CTLs and NK cells don’t work properly. They can’t fight infections and they secrete too many cytokines which can make you sick.”
There are two types of HLH: primary and secondary. The former is genetic, the latter is acquired. Apparently researchers don’t know how it is acquired, but there are no apparent differences – no differences in symptoms – between the two. The only way that a doctor can tell if a patient has primary or secondary HLH is by doing a genetic test. So, the question we have to ask is why did the NPR article assume that the Covid-19 deaths due to cytokine storms are related to genetics (“primary” HLH)? Why can’t the environment (“secondary” HLH) be involved?
That leads to a whole different line of inquiry, especially since one study “found that non-heritable influences outweighed heredity in about 75% of all the immune parameters… Some of the immune measures showed more variability with age, suggesting that over time environmental factors drive many immune system variations.” In other words, it’s not only that as a person ages their immune system weakens; it’s also that over time they are exposed to more things in the environment that weaken their immune system.
“You are what you (and your grandma) ate”
Science Daily explained: ‘New research shows that maternal exposure to a common and ubiquitous form of industrial pollution can harm the immune system of offspring and that this injury is passed along to subsequent generations, weakening the body’s defenses against infections such as the influenza virus.… “The old adage ‘you are what you eat’ is a touchstone for many aspects of human health,” said (Dr. Paige) Lawrence. “But in terms of the body’s ability to fights off infections, this study suggests that, to a certain extent, you may also be what your great-grandmother ate.”’
Nor is it only what you (and your grandma) ate; it’s also what you breathe. Here’s how: HLH is basically a disease in which the immune system attacks its own body. It is similar to another autoimmune disease: Lupus. Such diseases have been on the rise.Why? According to an article in Science Direct. “long-term exposure to traffic-related gaseous air pollutants (NO2 and CO) less than current National Ambient Air Quality Standards and PM2.5 are significantly associated with the risk of SLE [Lupus].” This is probably not the only cause, but both articles agree that environmental factors are probably the main cause of this increase.
Then there is the issue of diabetes. Statistics indicate that diabetics have about five times the risk of dying from Covid-19 as do those without this disease. This is related to cytokine storms, as an article in The Scientist reports: “patients with metabolic disorders including diabetes seem to be more at risk of such severe complications [as cytokine storms].” This, too, is directly related to the environment: “Elevated air pollution exposure was associated with a metabolic profile that is characteristic of increased risk for type 2 diabetes.”
Then there is another issue: The unnatural life routines among workers in the US. This directly affects sleep. According to Sleephealth.org “Sleep problems, whether in the form of medical disorders or related to work schedules and a 24/7 lifestyle, are pervasive. In America, 70% of adults report that they obtain insufficient sleep at least one night a month, and 11% report insufficient sleep every night.” Does that affect your health, including survival chances if you are a Covid-19 patient? You bet your life it does.
One study discusses sleep and the circadian rhythm. This is the rhythm of day and night. The human species – like so many others – evolved to eat and be active during day time. Even when people are hidden away from sunlight itself, somehow the body senses this circadian rhythm. This study reports that, “Accumulating epidemiological studies have demonstrated significant associations between circadian disruption-related lifestyles and an increased risk of type 2 diabetes (e.g. shift work has been associated with a 10–40% increased risk of diabetes).” In general, “chronic sleep loss is a risk factor for immune system impairment.”
So, pollution, overwork, sleep deprivation and the related stress all seem to be related to survival chances of Covid-19. What a surprise!
Genes vs. endocrine system
Why has so much research gone into genetics and so little into environmental factors? Part of it is because genetics is a lot simpler. Either a person has a certain gene or they don’t. And if they have it at birth, they will have it until they die. In other words, genetics are relatively simple and unchanging.
What is a lot more complex and subject to change from the moment of conception – in fact even before that moment – until death is the endocrine system. And in some ways, it is even more influential on any animal’s day-to-day, in fact moment-to-moment, functioning. In her seminal book Our Stolen Future (reviewed here), toxicologist Theo Colborn explains how the hormones continually regulate the body’s functions. “If levels of a hormone get too high or too low, the hypothalamus sends a message to the pituitary, which signals the gland that produces this hormone to gear up, slow down or shut off. The messages travel back and forth continuously. Without this cross talk and constant feed back, the human body would be an unruly mob of some 50 trillion cells rather than an integrated organism operating from a single script…. (There are) profound interconnections between the brain and the immune system, the immune system and the endocrine system, and the endocrine system and the brain.” Colborn explains how some chemicals (many but not all of them synthetic) can act either as hormone mimics or hormone blockers which block a cell from receiving a hormone. She explains how malfunction of the endocrine system can be “inherited” not only by what the mother eats when the embryo is in the womb, but even before then. As Doctor Paige said, you may be what your grandmother ate (or breathed or even absorbed through her skin).
There is clearly a direct political reason why this aspect of human health goes under-investigated and under reported: economic interest of the capitalist class. And those who fearlessly continue to investigate and make the links risk their careers. Evolutionary biologist Rob Wallace is an example. He once consulted with top agencies of the UN, but now as he commented on his Facebook page, he has been “run out of academia”. The reason is that he insisted on drawing the links between factory farming and zoonotic (other animal species to human) diseases. It will be the same for any health researcher who emphasizes the links hinted at in this article.
Capitalism real cause of disease and mortality
As Oaklandsocialist has shown, it is the clash between capitalist development and the laws of nature that is the ultimate cause of the rise of zoonotic diseases like Covid-19. And as these studies indicate, it is the functioning of capitalism that plays a huge role in a Covid-19 victim’s survival chances. It’s capitalism that is the real disease. The virus that causes Covid-19 (SARS-CoV-2) is only the carrier.