Avoid a cold this Fall!

Jessica Udzinski (1 PM BIO230) warns us of the dangers of allowing sick people near us. I will definitely stand a bit further back from the first row for the rest of the semester from now on!   FYI:  I have added a new tag (Guest Post), which you can click over there on the right. It will show you all posts on the blog which have been written by students. Here is what Jessica has to say, which she found via looking at the Discovery News website:

Being sick can be a real drag, and once the symptoms of our illness have subsided, we are extra cautious to not get sick again.  Some may think this is solely a response from our behavioral immune system, but recent research shows that the biological immune system works in a partnership with the behavioral immune system after an illness, to prevent a reoccurring illness.

When the body’s biological system detects a microbe invader (e.g. common cold), the immune system releases cytokine interleukin-10.  This is a protein that assists in immune and inflammation responses and causes inflammation, allowing the body to fight off the microbe invader.  Once the body begins to recover from the illness the immune system sends out another cytokine protein with anti-inflammatory characteristics.  During this time, the immune system is weak, which causes the body to be a susceptible environment for more micro- invaders to enter.

This study focuses on the time period when a person is recovering from an illness or has very recently been sick.  It is suggested that those who have not been sick recently are less likely to be aware of germs and other currently ill people around them, compared to those who are still recovering from being under the weather.  Researchers have found a common hypothesis that when the second cytokine protein is released, the behavioral immune system causes the recovering individual to be more mindful of others around them by identifying them and avoiding them, should they be ill.

To test this hypothesis a group of people were categorized into two different groups:  recently sick (experimental group) and not recently sick (control group).  They were all placed in a room and were shown pictures of an assortment of different facial expressions.  Some pictures included people sneezing, coughing, or just generally appearing ill.  It was observed that the individuals who were in the process of recuperating were more aware of the pictures of the people who showed signs of poor health and also stared at said pictures a considerable amount of time longer than those observing the pictures who were in good health.

The second study was similar, but the recently sick and not recently sick individuals were asked, while being shown pictures of different facial expressions, whether or not they would likely approach the individuals in the pictures.  The study showed that the group of recently sick individuals responded quicker to the distorted faces compared to the not recently sick group of individuals, claiming they were not likely to approach that person.

Both of these studies link behavioral patterns with a common factor:  all individuals who were recently sick had similar responses to the pictures of the ill looking persons.  They were all found to identify the ill looking persons and responded by indicating they were likely to avoid them.  In order to identify the exact way the biological immune system and the behavioral immune system work together, more research is necessary.  However, the research and studies performed thus far indicate a clear idea of how the two can be linked.  The hypothesis is certainly an eye opener during the brink of the cold season.  Keep the illness at a distance and your hand sanitizer near!

English, Marianne. (15 Sep. 2011). Can Our Immune Systems Tell Us Who’s Sick?    Discovery News 21 Sep. 2011

Retrieved from http://news.discovery.com/human/can-our-immune-systems-110915.html.


About ycpmicro

My name is David Singleton, and I am an Associate Professor of Microbiology at York College of Pennsylvania. My main course is BIO230, a course taken by allied-health students at YCP. Views on this site are my own.

Posted on September 27, 2011, in Guest Post, Microbes in the News and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Avoid a cold this Fall!.

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