Children’s nose cells can help them fight off Covid, research shows

Experts from University College London (UCL) have discovered children are less likely to suffer badly with coronavirus because cells in their nose are better at fighting it off.

The study, which was published in Nature Microbiology yesterday, included scientists examining noses, as that is the first place Covid enters the body. Experts found that ageing adult nose cells contain 100 times more virus in the first few days after infection, which could explain why older people are worse hit by Covid and children are rarely very ill.

girl in white and pink floral shirt

To conduct the research, which can be found in full here, researchers analysed cells from the nose lining of healthy people from three different age groups – under-12s, 30-50-year-olds and over 70s. Following this, experts infected them with coronavirus.

They were collected in February 2020, when the first wave of covid hit, which means the results remain unclear on how the body reacts to new strains of the virus.

After three days, scientists noticed that the cells taken from children were quick to react against the virus and reduce viral load however, this trend was less obvious in middle-aged adults and was completely void in cells from the over-70s as experts found more virus, more shedding and damage in their samples.

Dr. Claire Smith, leader of the project, said: ‘Our research reveals how the type of cells we have in our nose changes with age, and how this affects our ability to combat SARS-CoV-2 infection.

‘This could be crucial in developing effective anti-viral treatments tailored to different age groups, especially for the elderly who are at higher risk of severe COVID-19.’

In addition, co-senior author, Dr. Kerstin Meyer, outlined how important it was to take ageing into account when looking for Covid treatments and therapies.  

Dr. Meyer remarked: ‘By carrying out SARS-CoV-2 infections of epithelial cells in vitro and studying the responses with single cell sequencing, we get a much more detailed understanding of the viral infection kinetics and see big differences in the innate immune response between cell types.’

Following the success of this research, experts involved in the study have now said they want to look into how the body – and the nose – responds to other illnesses including colds, flu, and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).

News of the studies findings coincides with the NHS’ announcement that they are now taking bookings from people in England wanting a free spring Covid booster jab.

People eligible for the vaccine include:

  • People aged 75 or above by 30th June 2024
  • People in care homes for older adults
  • Anyone immunosuppressed who is aged six months or older

Image: Vinit Vispute

More on this topic:

If we’re forced to suffer Long Covid, work environments must change

Manchester GPs combat long Covid by text


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