The Coronavirus Took Advantage of Our Weaknesses

A physician explains the nature of opportunistic infection

Photo: Andriy Onufriyenko/Getty Images

In medicine, certain infections are considered “opportunistic.” The causal pathogens in these cases are thought to take advantage of people with weakened immune systems.

There’s another troubling part of this story. Many chronic, preventable diseases seem to preferentially affect racial and ethnic minority groups. This mirrors trends in those negatively affected by the pandemic. There are several potential reasons for this. For example, people living at, below, or dangerously close to the poverty line (who are quite often minorities) may have decreased access to healthy food and increased exposure to psychological stress, each of which may negatively impact immune function. Other research finds that discrimination itself worsens health, increasing activation of the stress system and predisposing people to conditions like heart disease, obesity, and high blood pressure. This hard hitting combination creates an added layer of vulnerability to negative outcomes from the virus.

Dr. Austin Perlmutter, co-author of BRAIN WASH, is a board-certified internal medicine physician.

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