Immunity debt and a cycle of sickness

KOLD News 10-10:30 p.m. recurring
Published: Jan. 4, 2023 at 6:49 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) -A new CDC report shows the flu is sending more people to the hospital this year than it has in a decade. The number of children being hospitalized with bugs is particularly alarming. And now, there’s a new COVID-19 subvariant making the rounds. When it comes to the surge in sickness, many health experts believe the culprit is something called “immunity debt,” and we’re struggling to pay up.

”The stories in the streets are like, boy, it’s kind of a war zone out there,” said TMC HealthCare pediatric immunology specialist Dr. Sean Elliott. He said hospitals, emergency rooms, and doctors are overwhelmed by the flood of patients with routine illnesses like RSV and flu.

“We humans have not been exposed, and thus are immunity has started to dwindle, to enter a debt,” Elliott said. “Right now we’re seeing lots of kids and adults who are sick with those routine viral illnesses which came back with a vengeance and we’re just underprepared to fight them off.”

We saved up antibodies during the pandemic with things like masking, social distancing, and good hand washing. Then this winter, the lack of infection, colder weather, and holiday gatherings caught up with us.

Antibodies are a specialty of Dr. Deepta Battacharya at the University of Arizona. He says, antibodies decline over time. The fewer you you have, the more likely you are to get sick. He wishes more people would get vaccines, because, thought they may not prevent you from catching something at all, they can keep you from getting really sick and passing it along.

”Immunity isn’t binary, it’s not just yes or no. There’s really just different levels of protection that you get,” said Battacharya.

Unfortunately, Battacharya told us the jury is out on other ways to boost immunity, such as supplements, vitamins, or eating certain foods. Though we may be sick of the precautions we adopted at the pandemic’s peak, the doctors say, they worked and still do. They do not recommend intentionally exposing yourself to build up immunity.

They also agree that this immunity debt was worth the protection we got from COVID. But before this surge gets better, they expect it to get worse.

”A double peaked surge, if you will, that’s gonna last for a good chunk of January until we get into the early spring,” said Elliott, who adds, it could take a couple of years to pay off our immunity debt, “We will move past the immunity debt, but it’s going to take time, at least one year of full fledged assault.”