How have Covid-19 pandemic lockdowns affected our immune systems?

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THE world is more than a year into the Covid-19 pandemic, so many people have been living with lockdown restrictions, quarantine periods, and physical distancing for an extended period of time.

Hand sanitizer and masks are rife, and the common cold has not felt so common. But what will these lifestyle changes do to our health?

In this article, we look at what effect living physically distanced from other people might have on the immune systems of adults, children, and infants born during the pandemic.

Some people have voiced concerns over whether their immune systems are being challenged, given that the general public is no longer physically mixing.

Might our immune systems consequently “forget” how to fight off disease-causing agents? For adults and older children, there is some good news: This is not how immunity works.

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According to MIT Medical, by the time a person reaches adulthood, their immune system has already had exposure to plenty of bacteria and viruses and is able to mount an attack against these invaders.

Because of this, the immune system has already learned how to destroy these microbes and will not forget, even in the wake of long-term lockdowns.

But what about younger children, whose immune systems are still in the learning phase?
Children and the ‘hygiene hypothesis’

Many parents and caregivers will be familiar with the so-called hygiene hypothesis, even if they do not know it by name.

It is essentially the idea that there is a link between the rise in allergic conditions and reduced exposure to microbes during childhood resulting from hygiene measures, such as frequent hand washing, introduced to protect children from infection.

Dr. David Strachan first proposed this link in an article that appeared in the BMJTrusted Source in 1989.

In a paper that appeared in the journal Perspectives in Public Health in 2016, Prof. Sally F. Bloomfield and colleagues examine Dr. Strachan’s original paper.

They write: “The immune system is a learning device, and at birth it resembles a computer with hardware and software but few data.

Additional data must be supplied during the first year of life, through contact with microorganisms from other humans and the natural environment.”

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