‘Cytokine storms’: Why doctors are exploring extreme inflammatory response in severe coronavirus patients – cleveland.com

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Weathering the “cytokine storm” could be one of the keys in saving severely ill coronavirus patients, but doctors still don’t know all the facts about the extreme inflammatory response.

Cytokines play a major role in regulating the human immune system, generally helping the body fight off infection and alerting to any problems.

But in more severe coronavirus cases, doctors are seeing that these proteins aren’t prepared for the SARS-CoV-2 virus, and may be causing a long list of problems by prompting the immune system to overreact to the threat.

Cleveland.com reached out to Ohio experts to explain the threat cytokine storms and resulting inflammation pose to the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic.

Q: What is a cytokine storm?

A: What’s referred to as a “cytokine storm” is a severe immune response to an infection. Cytokines are proteins produced by the body that sound the alarm when there’s an infection. This is generally helpful to ward off illness.

Cytokines are also responsible for some of the pro-inflammatory symptoms we feel when sick, like fever, according to Mark Cameron, an associate professor at Case Western Reserve University.

When the body encounters a new virus and doesn’t know how to react, the immune system can go haywire, produce higher levels of cytokines and cause intense inflammation.

“(SARS-CoV-2) takes advantage of our naive immune systems to evade detection and
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