An in-depth interview with Dr. Christos Karatzios, Assistant Professor of Paediatrics/Infectious Diseases – Montréal Children’s Hospital

Dimitris Ilias

Covid-19. Although we call it sneaky, silent killer, elusive and all kinds of epithets usually attributed to living organisms, covid-19 is not alive. It is a piece of RNA code wrapped in a protein shell. It cannot self-replicate and needs our cells to do its dirty job. There I go humanizing it again! And although most of us want this new coronavirus to die horribly, scientists like Dr. Christos Karatzios see it exactly for what it is: A parasite that does not even deserve to be called microorganism which deserves, however, enormous respect and knowledge in order to eliminate it.

New effect on children-Kawasaki syndrome
Lately, a lot is being discussed about a larger than usual number of kids being admitted to the hospital with an inflammatory syndrome called Kawasaki.
“Children started coming in with Kawasaki syndrome for which there is no test. More like a clinical hunch” said Dr. Karatzios. It is a disease originally seen in Asian kids and no one knows what is causing it. Effects include prolonged fever, face rashes, red eyes, cracked red lips, swollen strawberry looking tongue, swollen hands and feet, eventually attacking the heart. The past few weeks reports all over the world have been showing an increased number of children coming in the hospital with weird atypical Kawasaki syndrome, leading doctors to believe that some infectious agent is causing this. Covid-19 is the obvious culprit since that is the only infectious agent that is present compared to last year. “St-Justine looked at their patients; half of them tested positive to Covid, half of them not. The children who tested negative had antibodies developed for covid-19” said Dr. Karatzios. All that means is, that at some point those children developed antibodies, killed the virus and later developed Kawasaki syndrome as an auto-immune reaction to their own antibodies. The scientific community is closely monitoring this new development.

Dr. Christos Karatzios, Assistant Professor of Paediatrics/Infectious Diseases – Montréal Children’s Hospital

Still very rare
All this scary stuff shows yet another baffling aspect of this virus. However, when it comes to children, cases of covid-19 are still very rare. “Less than 5% of the total covid-19 infections are children not to mention that children do well against the virus or are asymptomatic” said Dr. Karatzios. Out of this 5% in 4 million, only a few dozen ended up in the hospital (24 in the UK, 15 in the US a few in Montreal etc.) and out of those, an infinitesimal percentage died.

Covid-19 the hijacker and your body’s response
This virus is no different than others in the way it operates. It hijacks the cells of your body (your DNA, your enzymes, your proteins) to create copies of itself. The body realizes that there is something happening that it does not like and sends messages to the immune system to send white blood cells to the infected area to swallow up the intruders. Those white blood cell first responders eat up viruses, chop them up and present them on their surface for other immune cells to come and learn about the enemy. Then the immune system starts to process…
In the end it creates antibodies. These Y shaped soldiers are released in large numbers in the body and attach themselves to the virus which they now know very well. Antibodies attached to a virus can kill it by preventing the virus from entering a cell or by making the virus more appetizing (recognizable) to white blood cells to eat it. Later the body creates memory cells that contain the blueprint of those antibodies in case the virus attacks again and that is how immunity develops.

Herd immunity
I asked the doctor if the virus could be eliminated without a vaccine. “Yes but you would get a lot of dead and sick people from this” was his adamant reply. He explained that in order to develop herd immunity 60 to 70 percent of people have to have contracted the virus and developed antibodies to it. “As a society, do we want to sacrifice a lot more people, like in Sweden which did not follow the lockdown approach of the rest of the world, in order to develop herd immunity?” questioned Dr. Karatzios. Flattening the curve means we spare our health system a massive influx of patients. Flattening the curve means we do not have to decide who lives and who dies like in Italy. The virus will always be there, but we take the time to develop our weapons against it while minimizing our casualties. It’s a war thing!

Vitamins to douse the flames after a war
“There is no magic formula as to how to strengthen our immune system. But you can send your immune system to the gym by resting, sleeping 7-8 hours and eating a balanced and healthy diet” said Dr. Karatzios. He proceeded to emphasize the importance of fruits and vegetables for the vitamins they have which are very useful to the body as antioxidants. “When your immune system is fighting a war, some white cells kill viruses by pouring peroxide on them. If this inflammation is allowed to happen at a very prolonged and extreme way, it can lead to problems like cancer and can lead to an overactive immune system so the vitamins put the brakes on the immune system.” said Dr. Karatzios.

Vitamin D
There are a few studies that show that vitamin D is kind of protective against respiratory viruses and infuenza. So, people that have low levels of vitamin D, people who live in climates where there is not enough sun or do not consume vitamin D rich foods have more problems with respiratory viruses. Even with covid-19 there is a suggestion that sunnier places in the world tend to fare better than places with vitamin D deficiency. “A few studies show that Vitamin D helps to boost our immune system a little bit. Not a cure but it helps.”