Multiple studies published in the last two years indicate that eggs from chickens immunized against SARS-CoV-2 could be used to create effective treatments against COVID-19 in humans. There is no evidence, however, that this development is responsible for the current egg shortage in the United States, as some conspiracy theories allege.
In a study published in the Journal of Applied Microbiology last March, researchers found that egg antibodies (IgYs) produced by chickens immunized against the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein had the ability to neutralize the virus, specifically by interfering with the spike protein’s capacity to attach to human cells.
The researchers concluded that IgY targeting the spike protein “could be a promising candidate for pre- and post-exposure prophylaxis or treatment of COVID-19.”
They added that “administration of IgY-based oral preparation, oral or nasal spray may have profound implications for blocking SARS-CoV-2.”
A 2021 study published in the journal International Immunopharmacology concluded that anti-spike protein IgYs “showed significant neutralizing potency against SARS-CoV-2 pseudovirus, various spike protein mutants, and even SARS-CoV in vitro.”
The authors concluded such antibodies “might be a feasible tool for the prevention and control of ongoing COVID-19.”
This study also suggested that such a treatment might have several advantages over monoclonal antibodies, including reduced side effects and reduced production costs. As the authors point out, IgYs has been noted by researchers since 1959 for “their stable chemical properties” and low-cost, high-yield results that make them a potentially more attractive treatment option for developing countries.
When it comes to reduced side effects, the study notes, “IgYs neither bind the human rheumatoid factors nor activate the human complement system, which minimizes the risks of inflammation.” In essence, egg antibodies do not cause allergy or set off immune reactions when injected into humans.
The study points out that IgY antibodies have also been applied to combat human viral infections such as the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), influenza virus, and Coxsackie virus.
The authors cite a 2006 study of an earlier SARS coronavirus in which anti-SARS coronavirus IgYs were purified from chickens immunized with an inactive form of the virus, and the resulting antibodies were able to neutralize the live virus both in vitro and in vivo.
A third study published last in Viruses last July by researchers at UC–Davis also found evidence supporting the approach of producing COVID-19 antibodies in birds.
Rodrigo Gallardo, a UC–Davis professor in poultry medicine at the UC–Davis School of Veterinary Medicine lauded the approach in an article on the university’s website.
“The beauty of the system is that you can produce a lot of antibodies in birds. In addition to a low cost to produce these antibodies in hens, they can be updated very fast by using updated antigens to hyperimmunize hens, allowing protection against current variant strains.”
The Egg Shortage Theory
The egg antibody research offers such a compelling avenue for COVID-19 treatment that it has spurred questions of a potential conspiracy given the current egg shortage in the U.S.
An article in the DCPatriot asked, “Is that why eggs are disappearing at an alarming rate? Is that why chicken farms are being destroyed? We don’t know, but it sure is a ‘what the hell is happening here’ moment, isn’t it?”
However, even though chickens can be used to produce antibodies, they first have to be exposed to the virus. All the studies involved hens that were exposed to the coronavirus. The study published in Applied Microbiology found that a control group of non-immunized IgYs had “no obvious inhibitory effect on the virus” as indicated in the graph below that compares the results of IgYs from immunized hens (blue line) to those of the control group (red line):
There appears to be no scientific evidence then that the eggs in your local supermarket are an effective treatment for COVID-19. Furthermore, the contemplated delivery systems, such as nasal sprays, would deliver a highly refined and concentrated dosage, further enhancing the impact of the antibodies.
Eggs as COVID-19 Fighters
That said, as reported by the Times of India, “coronavirus quarantine facilities around the world, are offering eggs to their patients in recovery with their daily meals.”
The Times reported that authorities are also providing a lot of healthcare workers eggs daily to boost their immunity.
Eggs come packed with amino acids and antioxidants, which improve your health and keep your immune system functioning optimally.
Each egg (85 calories) contains 7 grams of muscle-building protein apart from essential core vitamins like selenium (22 percent) and vitamins A, B, and K. Eggs also contain another nutrient, riboflavin, which supports development and growth.
Each egg also provides 27 percent of the RDA of vitamin D, which a recent meta-analysis of multiple studies has shown to be effective in reducing instances of COVID-19 infection as well as the severity of infections.