People with food allergies have a low risk of SARS-CoV-2 infection

(ORDO NEWS) — Since the start of the global pandemic, researchers have been trying to figure out who and why is most at risk of contracting SARS-CoV-2.

Now, a new population-based study by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has found evidence of a strange “coronavirus shield” in those with allergies.

In an analysis of more than 4,000 people who lived in households that included minors, the researchers noted several interesting trends in SARS-CoV-2 infection, including that people with food allergies were about half as likely to be infected.

This data is in line with other recent studies that have shown that allergic conditions such as asthma may provide some protection against severe cases of COVID-19.

Similarly, a new NIH study found that asthma is not associated with an increased risk of contracting SARS-CoV-2, despite asthma being a disease that affects the respiratory system.

On the other hand, obesity and a high body mass index were risk factors for SARS-CoV-2 infection, as was the age of children and adolescents living in the same room.

But the most remarkable discovery may be the result regarding food allergies.

“The observed association between food allergy and SARS-CoV-2 infection risk, and between body mass index and this risk, deserves further study,” says Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Researchers aren’t sure why food allergies make people less vulnerable to SARS-CoV-2, but there are several possible explanations.

Half of all study participants said they had been diagnosed with food allergies, asthma, eczema, or allergic rhinitis. These self-reports were then backed up by a blood test that revealed antibodies associated with allergic diseases.

The researchers then tracked the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus in the families of the participants from May 2020 to February 2021.

People with eczema and asthma did not show increased vulnerability to the virus, but they were not more protected either.

Meanwhile, people with food allergies had a 50% lower risk of contracting SARS-CoV-2.

Not all forms of asthma are atopic (or highly allergic), and previous studies have shown that only patients with atopic asthma have lower levels of the ACE2 receptor, to which SARS-CoV-2 attaches, in their airways.

This suggests that the virus does not have many ways of trapping cells in the lungs of people with respiratory allergies.

Something similar may also occur among people with food allergies, although the authors only looked at SARS-CoV-2 infection and not the severity of the infection.

“It is not known whether this also occurs in individuals with food allergies, but it is tempting to speculate that type 2 inflammation, characteristic of food allergies, may reduce airway ACE2 levels and thus the risk of infection,” the researchers wrote.

“In support of this possibility, we found a significantly higher rate of total atopy among people with food allergies compared to people without food allergies and even asthma.”

Interestingly, while some research suggests that allergic asthma protects against severe cases of COVID-19, current research has shown that the condition does not protect against initial exposure to the virus.

What’s more, when participants with asthma or food allergies did contract the novel coronavirus, they were no more likely to be asymptomatic.

Further research is needed to elucidate the mechanisms underlying the new findings, but the authors hope their study may open new avenues for COVID-19 prevention.

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