Could social distancing weaken the immune system?

Infectious Disease Specialist addresses concerns
Published: May. 14, 2020 at 12:15 PM CDT
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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - You may have seen the scare circulating around on social media... Could wearing a mask and social distancing actually weaken your immune system?

While you might think that lowering your body’s exposure to bacteria could in turn lower your ability to fight infection, Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Ali Hassoun with Huntsville Hospital says that connection more strongly applies to young children.

“This might actually apply for infants, newborns.. where they’re not exposed to small amounts [of bacteria] on a regular basis. They might develop allergies or might develop inability to fight off infection,” says Hassoun. “But in adults, this has not been shown.”

This is because most adults have already been exposed to enough bacteria over the course of their lives.

“A lot of us really have been exposed to a wide variety of bacteria and viruses already," says Hassoun. "We already have made the robust immune response to a lot of these ones.”

The stronger link between social distancing and a weakened immunity revolves around the mental effects of isolation.

“Especially elderly populations - been at home, haven’t seen their family for a long time - that can affect their mental health,” says Hassoun. “If it affects their mental health for a long time, there is some concern about their immunity.”

In other words, the phrase “think positive, feel positive” has some merit.

Still, one of the best ways to boost your immunity is through eating good fruits and vegetables as opposed to taking any supplements.

“Eating healthy, exercising... all these things are going to be able to boost our immunity in general," says Hassoun.

Remember to keep your distance during this time as well.

“Physical distancing, the mask, hand hygiene is all still very, very important even when we’re reopening,” says Hassoun. “It’s essential so we can get over this issue hopefully in shorter periods rather than in longer periods.”

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