BACK

How is immunity impacted by lockdowns?

This article was published on
April 22, 2021

This explainer is more than 90 days old. Some of the information might be out of date or no longer relevant. Browse our homepage for up to date content or request information about a specific topic from our team of scientists.

The immune system continues to fight against germs or invaders, like bacteria, viruses, and fungi, even during lockdown. It creates new immunity when it is exposed to invaders, but it does not weaken when it is not continuously challenged.

The immune system continues to fight against germs or invaders, like bacteria, viruses, and fungi, even during lockdown. It creates new immunity when it is exposed to invaders, but it does not weaken when it is not continuously challenged.

Publication

What our experts say

Studies have shown that when infants and children are raised in a home that is “too clean,” they may be more likely to have allergies or autoimmune problems later on. This “hygiene hypothesis” causes confusion sometimes. The hypothesis does not mean that the immune system needs to be exposed to germs all the time to remain strong.

We spend a lifetime developing immunity to germs in our environment. In comparison to life in our communities and around other people, the time we've spent in lockdown (or social-distancing from others) is short. Our bodies remember the germs and viruses we have been exposed to before lockdown and will continue to remember after it ends.

Babies who have been born in the past year and have spent most of their lives at home are probably still exposed to some germs. Lockdowns are just a small delay in their immune development. Their immune systems will likely “catch-up” on learning about germs once lockdowns are over.

As much as possible, people should manage stress (including finding ways to connect with others remotely), eat a variety of foods, exercise, breathe some fresh air, and get enough sleep to stay healthy and keep their immune systems strong. Smoking and alcohol use may weaken the immune system and should be avoided. As isolation and loneliness can weaken the immune system, it's also important to maintain social connections through phone calls, video chats, and other socially distanced activities.

Context and background

The immune system helps protect us from illness or disease. People are born with an innate immune system that is activated when a baby is born. The innate immune system works as the body’s first defense to attack germs and other invaders in the body. 

After the innate immune system reacts, the acquired immune system responds and learns to recognize invaders. The acquired immune system is made of multiple organs in the body. It develops antibodies to fight germs and invaders.

To prevent COVID-19 infection, people should wash their hands, wear face masks, avoid crowded places, and practice social distancing (at least 6 feet or 2 meters) from others.

Resources

  1. Asthma: The Hygiene Hypothesis (U.S. Food and Drug Administration)
  2. What is innate immunity? (Center for Innate Immunity and Disease)
  3. The Immune System (Johns Hopkins Medicine)
  4. Is all this social distancing weakening our immune systems (MIT Medical)
  5. How to boost your immune system (Harvard Health)

Media briefing

Media Release

Expert Comments: 

No items found.

Q&A

No items found.