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ANSWERED on Tue 6 Nov 2007 - 3:06 pm UTC by David Sarokin

Question: Can getting sick be good for you?

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 6 Nov 2007 14:15 UTCTue 6 Nov 2007 - 2:15 pm UTC 

I once heard that if you get a cold or some other minor illness, it can be good for you in the long run because it ramps up your immune system and makes you less likely to get sick from, say, the flu, or some other more serious illness for a period of some weeks or months.

I have attempted to verify this information, but I can't seem to find any source for it, so now I am wondering if I maybe just made it up.


David Sarokin 


 6 Nov 2007 15:06 UTCTue 6 Nov 2007 - 3:06 pm UTC 


It's not really the getting sick part that is good for you.  But getting exposed to a wide variety of germs, especially when young, is generally considered an important part of building up a healthy immune system.  And of course, with exposure, comes the (hopefully occasional, hopefully mild) childhood illness as well.

You can see what I mean from this medical advice column from a doctor at Harvard:

Raising Healthy Kids

"It turns out that getting exposed to plenty of bacteria and viruses when you are young may be a really good thing—because it helps promote the healthy development of the immune system. In fact, research has shown that early exposure to germs can decrease a child's risk of getting asthma and other allergic diseases. It may even decrease their risk of certain cancers such as Hodgkin's disease..."

As you can tell, the actual evidence is slim -- limited to a few conditions like asthma and some allergies -- and qualified by "may".  Nevertheless, the prevailing sentiment among pediatricians these days seems to be pretty much as stated above, that exposure to a wide-variety of germs is a necessary part of growing up with a well-developed immune system.

Hope that fully answers your question, but if there's anything else you need, just let me know.



Roger Browne 


 6 Nov 2007 16:10 UTCTue 6 Nov 2007 - 4:10 pm UTC 

I know a doctor who is convinced that you can only get one viral illness at a time. In other words, if you have one kind of cold, you can't concurrently get another.

I don't know of any science behind this belief, but it's only a slightly weaker assertion than the subject of your question.

Regarding "getting exposed to plenty of bacteria and viruses when you are young": I think the key here is "exposure to a wide variety of germs" rather than to a large quantity of germs. It's likely to be hazardous to expose a child to dog feces, for example, but it's likely to be desirable to expose them to things like river water from a "clean" river. The "cleaner" the river, the more likely it is to have a very wide range of pathogens, each in a small quantity.


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