Researchers are warning about the health effects of manmade PFAS chemicals on the body's ability to fight COVID-19.

They're so widespread that they can be found in Arctic animals, even though there's no purposeful use for them in that part of the world. But they're also found at potentially dangerous levels in parts of North Carolina, including the central part of the state near the Haw River, and also near Wilmington.

Jamie DeWitt is an associate professor of pharmacology and toxicology at East Carolina University. She says the chemicals can impact the body's immune system.

“So in the case of COVID, what does this mean specifically?" she says. "It may mean that there are some people who are at greater risk of developing COVID if they're infected or they are at greater risk of developing the disease if they're infected. It also means that they might have a more severe reaction if they are infected.”

DeWitt says people with elevated levels of PFAS should get the vaccine when it becomes available as an additional tool to fight off the disease. But she warns that PFAS could also lead to a reduced response. 

She spoke as part of a virtual Zoom press conference about PFAS chemicals and the coronavirus vaccine.

PFAS chemicals are used in such products as carpets, pots and pans, and fire suppression foams. They're also used in food packaging, and researchers say that may have led to more exposure as people switched to take-out food during the pandemic.

For the most up-to-date information on coronavirus in North Carolina, visit our Live Updates blog here. WFDD wants to hear your stories — connect with us and let us know what you're experiencing.

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