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What are interferons: the “front-line soldiers” with which our body fights the coronavirus

The hope is that, together with other treatments, recovery can be accelerated and long-term damage to health can be prevented

They were named “our best fighters”.

Thus, the most recognized epidemiologist and leader in the United States fight against the coronavirus, Anthony Fauci, described interferons.

And according to the experts consulted by BBC Mundo, he is not exaggerating.

Interferons are glycoproteins with high antiviral activity produced in our body and are considered an essential part of the body’s defense against multiple viruses, including the new SARS-CoV-2.

In fact, different studies suggest that strengthening the presence of these molecules in the human body in time can strongly inhibit the effects of covid-19.

The hope is that, together with other treatments, speed up recovery and to prevent long-term damage to health.

But it is pointed out that there are also dangers when the disease is already advanced due to the intense side effects that can be caused.

Despite this, interferon treatments are already used with diseases such as hepatitis C and multiple sclerosis.


“They are our front-line soldiers. When you get infected with a virus, your cells do fundamental work. We can say that the first thing they do is a call to increase the body’s defenses. This action is mediated by these proteins called interferons.“, Explains Benjamin tenOever, director of the Center for Virus Engineering for Therapy and Research, based in New York.

Interferons are produced naturally by the human body, but treatments were developed to strengthen people’s immune systems.

The doctor describes, for example, that interferons act when you have symptoms of a cold or flu such as fever and body aches.

“They fight the effects of viruses. They try to reduce what they generate, ”he says.

For its part, an essay published by German scientists, published in July by the National Institutes of Health of the United States, indicates that interferons “react quickly during the process of a viral infection.

“They are an essential part of a very early defense mechanism.”

Against the coronavirus

According to the team of German doctors, an indicator of the importance of interferons is the finding that in cell cultures and animal experiments it was detected that they can strongly inhibit the effects of coronavirus.

That is why different studies in the world aim to enhance its capacity in the human body, which would mean that the immune system of people has greater options that covid-19 does not produce serious or fatal effects.

Until this September 1, 850,545 people died from the contagion of the new virus and more than 25 million infections were registered in the world.

The United States, Brazil, India and Mexico are the countries with the highest number of deaths from the pandemic.

People with a mask in Guatemala

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Until the end of August, the pandemic had caused more than 850,000 deaths.

Benjamin tenOever explains that it is not a surprise that giving interferons is an effective way to fight infections such as coronavirus, but he also adds that there are problems.

The dangers

“There may be cases in which if this protein is provided as a medicine you can experience the worst flu of your life. A dose can be much larger than what your body can produce naturally and you will feel terrible even if it can help you with a virus infection, “he explains.

The expert maintains that this is one of the reasons why it is still debated whether this possibility should be used more widely with those infected with the new coronavirus.

And it is a possibility that the moment in which this procedure is applied that defines the possible effects.

A dose in an early stage of the coronavirus may be more effective than when the patient is already hospitalized, “but it is something that is still being analyzed,” says tenOever.

“It is still not clear. It is something that we still do not know and, in addition, it acts differently in each case, “she says.

And that’s why scientists around the world are studying how interferons can be made to be even better soldiers than they are now in the fight against coronavirus.

At the same time, different laboratories around the world try to develop a vaccine for covid-19 that is safe and effective.

Coronavirus test in Cuba

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Cuba developed its drug Interferon Alpha 2b more than two decades ago, which it produces with its own technology.

Time to act seems to be vital, according to research by a group of French scientists led by Jérôme Hadjadj.

In his article, published in the magazine Science, explain that the production of immune cells decreases in advanced cases of the disease in an article published in the American magazine Science.

“We found that the more severe the patients were, the less type 1 interferon they produced,” notes the article “Impairment of type I interferon activity and inflammatory responses in patients with severe COVID-19.”

TenOever, for its part, adds that in advanced cases the virus “very actively represses both the production and the action of interferons.”

Although these treatments for the virus are not endorsed by the World Health Organization, they are already used in countries such as Cuba, which developed its drug Interferon Alpha 2b more than two decades ago, which it produces with its own technology.

The island’s Ministry of Public Health highlights that the inclusion of this drug in its treatment protocols brought positive results.

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