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University of Silesia in Katowice

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Prevention and coping with stress – key protection against viruses

05.04.2024 - 12:43 update 08.04.2024 - 14:22
Editors: PK

Each of 50 Weeks in the City of Science features a text about selected research in a given subject area carried out by scientists from the universities forming the Academic Consortium Katowice City of Science. The texts we publish give insight into the diversity of issues scientists deal with and show the research potential that is dormant in the universities of the consortium..

| Agnieszka Kliks-Pudlik |

Virus Week is the 14th among the 50 Weeks in the City of Science. Scientists from the Medical University of Silesia remind that the best protection against viruses is prevention. They also emphasise that coping with stress and arousing positive emotions reduces the incidence of viral diseases. 

‘There is a lot of fake, often dangerous information about viruses, and after the coronavirus pandemic, there is even more of it. That is why it is so important to promote prevention and make society aware of the importance of a healthy lifestyle – from proper nutrition, through stress control, to vaccinations’ emphasises Karolina Lau, MD, curator of the Virus Week.

Coping with stress and feeling positive emotions reduces the incidence of viral diseases.  | photo: Daniel Mingook Kim, Unsplash

Prevention is better than cure

Karolina Lau, MD, represents the Chair and Department of Medicine and Environmental Epidemiology at the Faculty of Medical Sciences in Zabrze of the Medical University of Silesia in Katowice.

‘In our work with students, we particularly emphasise the principle ‘Prevention first’. That is why we support and initiate actions promoting a holistic approach to health’ emphasises the curator.

So far, their largest undertaking of this type was the #SUMsięSZCZEPI campaign (SUM gets vaccinated), which took place in 2021 during the pandemic in order to promote vaccinations among young people.

‘At that time, young people were the least ‘vaccinated’ group, which could ‘transmit’ the SARS-CoV-2 virus to older and sick people. Students and employees of our University promoted vaccinations by posting in their social media profiles the hashtag: #SUMsięSZCZEPI and the reason why they got vaccinated. Our campaign was very popular’ says Karolina Lau.

The latest campaign is dedicated to the HPV virus (human papillomavirus).

‘After 10 years of vaccination programmes against the HPV virus, the countries that conducted them noted, among others: 90% reduction in virus infections (types 6, 11, 16 and 18) and a 90% reduction in the incidence of genital warts. Today, in Poland, it is also possible to vaccinate 12- and 13-year-olds against the HPV virus for free, but still too few parents decide to do it. We want to increase awareness on this topic and convince parents and teenagers themselves how important this decision is’ emphasises Karolina Lau.

Viruses and stress

In the area of scientific activity, employees of the Department of Medicine and Environmental Epidemiology of the Medical University of Silesia conduct research in the field of hygiene, epidemiology and public health. In recent years, their research interests have included sleep disorders, stress, eating disorders, vaccinations and infectious diseases.

An example is the research of prof. Jadwiga Jośko-Ochojska, who studies the medical aspects of stress and the impact of chronic stress on viral diseases.

The scientist reminds that chronic stress causes physiological, biochemical and even anatomical norms to be exceeded, which leads to numerous diseases. ‘In this condition, the immune system is particularly vulnerable because stress hormones, by combining with the receptors of its cells, pathologically affect various aspects of innate and acquired immune functions. These changes occur in the immune system, increasing the likelihood of infectious diseases’ she explains.

Chronic stress also has a pathological effect on the nervous system, especially
the brain, contributing, among others, to depression. ‘Research shows that, compared to the general population, depression is much more common in people infected with coronavirus, herpes simplex virus 2, hepatitis C virus and cytomegalovirus’ says the scientist.

However, the latest research shows that coping with stress and arousing positive emotions and feelings are actions that also reduce the incidence of viral diseases. ‘It turns out that it mostly depends on us’ she emphasises.

‘Moreover, recent studies have proven that the nervous system, immune system and epigenetic inheritance are closely related. It is therefore worth developing neuroimmunoepigenetics now. Perhaps prognostic factors based on epigenetics will be used in the future for preventive tests of various diseases, especially viral diseases’ says Prof. Jadwiga Jośko-Ochojska.

The programme of the Virus Week is available on the event’s website

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