Many people are dying from an immune reaction that develops once someone has started to feel better from COVID-19, a top doctor has said.

Known as a ‘cytokine storm’, it involves the person’s immune system starting to attack healthy tissues, which can include the vital organs such as the heart and lungs.

Professor David Isenberg, director of the University College of London Centre for Rheumatology, said it seems to be worse among older people or those with other health conditions.

Speaking during a Royal Society of Medicine webinar, Professor Isenberg said: “A patient might seem to be recovering before the cytokine storm kicks in, often with fatal outcomes.

“You may see what seems to be an improvement after a short while either spontaneously or due to therapy. But it’s a lull before the storm because having improved somewhat, it can then come back again, and that’s when it can be truly fatal.”

“Cytokines are small molecules. They are part of the body’s innate response to infection, but a sudden release in large amounts is what causes problems. The storm is when the innate immune system gives rise, to reasons which are still not entirely clear, to a completely uncontrolled and excessive release in these pro-inflammatory signally molecules.

“What still remains a bit of a mystery is why some individuals are more prone to the problem than others.”

At the moment, there is no clear data on exactly how many people have died from the reaction, but doctors have found the drug, dexamethasone to be effective in treating it.

The cheap steroid has been found can inhibit the cytokine storm by dulling the immune system during infection, essentially protecting it from itself.

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