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Is pandemic isolation weakening our immune system?

With lower levels of exposure to all kinds of germs, there are fears that our general immunity will be impacted. Scientists are studying if these fears are valid

Is living alone harming us in the long run? (Photo: Mollie Sivaram on Unsplash)
Is living alone harming us in the long run? (Photo: Mollie Sivaram on Unsplash)

Will social distancing weaken my immune system?

With lower levels of exposure to all kinds of germs, there are fears that our general immunity will be impacted, leading to a rise in non-covid infections when we return to 'normal life'.

A March 2020 study at the University of Surrey in the UK found, after analysing 30 previous studies in this area, that social isolation could be linked to increased inflammation in the body. The study was published in the journal Neuroscience and Biobehavioural Reviews.

Dr Kimberley Smith, Lecturer in Health Psychology at the University of Surrey, said: "Loneliness and social isolation have been shown to increase our risk of poorer health. Many researchers propose that part of the reason for this is because they influence the body's inflammatory response."

However, Dr Smith said that the "results for a direct link between loneliness and inflammation were less convincing," adding that "these results are an important first step in helping us to better understand how loneliness and social isolation may be linked with health outcomes."

It is natural to worry about whether a lack of contact with others will weaken their immune system by reducing its active contact with germs.

But even when we're staying 6 feet from others or spending most of our time at home, our bodies are continuously responding to plenty of bacteria and other germs that inhabit indoor and outdoor environments.

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“We’re constantly exposed to microbes,” said Akiko Iwasaki, an immune system researcher at Yale University. "Our immune system is always being triggered.”

The effects of childhood vaccines and other built-up immunity are also long-lasting, Iwasaki said, and won't disappear overnight because we're keeping our distance from others during the pandemic.

Experts say anyone looking to boost their immune health during the pandemic should practice habits such as stress management, healthy eating, regular exercise and getting enough sleep.

"These are the things that actually affect the immune system," Iwasaki said.

A seasonal flu shot will also help protect you from one more potential illness.

With inputs from The Associated Press (AP)

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