Viral immune evasion is the process by which viruses evade the immune system of the host. Viruses have ‘studied’ immunology over millions of years of coevolution with their hosts. During this ongoing education, they have developed countless mechanisms to escape from the host’s immune system. “Stranger than fiction” is an apt description of virus behavior that includes shape-shifting and sabotage. For example, a fast replicating, small RNA virus might use speed and shape-changing to fool the immune system. Whereas a large, complex DNA virus with a more rigid genome might have the coding capacity for additional genes which interfere with the hosts’ ability to confront the virus.
Natural selection is the governing principle underlying the interaction between viruses and the host immune system. Natural selection has led to the evolution of the pathogens we confront today, and natural selection has also shaped, over a different time scale, the human immune system. Both pathogens and host strategize for survival. Some viruses replicate in regions less accessible to host defenses while more nimble viruses might use mutability to improve their chances of persisting.
The host-virus war is fought at the molecular level. Like the thrust and parry of battle, viruses use diverse mechanisms to avoid and antagonize the immune response of their hosts. This discussion will focus on how viruses escape immunity and how that may relate to COVID-19. Further conversation will include the COVID-19 vaccine and future pandemic preparations.
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