Why don’t we get sick more often?

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There’s a reason why most people don’t get sick more often – and that reason is our immune system. Our bodies are patrolled by a pretty sophisticated immune army that can defend us against attacks of all kinds – cancers, autoimmune diseases, and even infections.  

  • Our immune system works non-stop to keep us safe from all kinds of diseases – measles, chickenpox, strep throat, flu, and even COVID-19, the disease caused by SARS-CoV-2, the new coronavirus.
Our body is a complex, inter-related circuit that parses out attention and resources to all organs and systems. 
  • When one organ or system is damaged and ends up needing more resources, the other systems may take a bit of a hit.
    • Depending on the length of the illness, taking a hit could end up severely taxing these other systems, including the immune system.
      • To all those patients with chronic conditions, and ongoing therapies, get your disease under control.
        • This is a necessary and logical strategy to keep the immune system running in top condition.
The crucial role that our immune system plays in maintaining our health is exactly why, at any given point in time, there is a pool of individuals vulnerable to any and all infections.
  • These vulnerable individuals have a weak immune system because
    • they are undergoing chemo, battling a serious infection such as HIV, recovering from surgery, combating chronic conditions like diabetes or have issues with their heart, lungs or kidneys or were born with immune defects but able to live because of medical and scientific breakthroughs.
    • Newborn babies also fall into this vulnerable group because their immune system is still developing, and not robust yet.
      • Not all infections are created equal.
        • Some, like the Influenza virus and SARS-CoV-2 are able to be passed from one host to another, while others aren’t.
With all transmissible infections, any steps that we take to prevent infections protect us all, including vulnerable individuals.
  • When most of us engage in prevention of an infection, we minimize the spread of the pathogen that causes that particular infection.
    • This is a great reason to engage in prevention at all times – which means, at the very least,
      • good hand hygiene,
      • proper cough and sneeze etiquette,
      • getting vaccinated when possible, and
      • staying home when sick with a transmissible infection.
When we develop vaccines, we have the opportunity to give our immune system a “safety drill” that creates a memory – an endeavor that can be lifesaving against lethal infections.
  • This vaccine-induced practice run with its detailed memory responds with immune soldiers that can quickly kill that specific pathogen.
  • Since our immune system is crucial to keeping us healthy from infections, cancers, and even auto-immune conditions, a smart thing to ask ourselves is what can we do to keep this system running at top gear.
One strategy that all of us can engage in, is to lower our stress. Easier said than done, I know, but certainly do-able.
  • Stress reduction looks different for different folks.
    • Reading a great book, watching a good movie, having friends over, seeing your therapist – all of these are helpful.
In addition to these once-in-a-while activities, we have to create an ongoing, everyday strategy, similar to flossing and brushing our teeth every day.
  • How many of us truly eat well?
  • How many of us truly understand that we are what we eat?
    • What we eat affects the microbial community in our gut, which can then go on to either create a high-stress, inflammatory state or a low-stress, antioxidant, healthier state.
  • How many of us hydrate enough or exercise regularly or do something to brush off the stresses of the day?
    • If we did that, we would keep our body running near peak performance, ready to fight off infections, cancers, auto-immune diseases and/or chronic illnesses.
My friend, Caitlin, shared a great tip to help us with our handwashing hygiene:
  • ‘Wash your hands as if you just sliced a jalapeno and need to take your contact lens out’.
    • Very effective message.
      • Here’s another one for you:
        • Lower your stress as if your immunity depends on it. Because it does!

The answer to the question ‘Why don’t we get sick more often?’ is because our immune system is fulfilling its job description to protect us against infections and other maladies.

  • This brings me to the question of why and when would young people be at risk of COVID-19?!
    • The answer again has to do with our immune system.
      • Imagine a young person’s immune system that is already fighting an infection such as the Flu, for instance or is temporarily suppressed due to stress or even too much Sun exposure.
        • What if such a person were to now be exposed to SARS-CoV-2?
          • As you can imagine (and as we see already), such a person would be at risk of infection as well as severity of symptoms of COVID-19.