It is summer time and this doesn’t usually equate to runny noses, coughs, sore throats and ear pain. This year in Wallowa County, however, we have seen a fair amount of summer “colds.” This has caused patients to ask: How or why do we get sick in the summer?
Ultimately, an individual can contract a “cold” or the “flu” during any time of the year. This article will explain how our body defends itself and how easily one can become sick.
There are three main pathogens (small organisms that can make us sick) in the world: bacteria, viruses and fungi. They are abundant; they live on us and in us. Some of these help our bodies to function correctly. Contact with these organisms is daily.
Most pathogens need to enter the body to infect. The body’s first mechanism of defense is the skin. Any time a person is cut or any opening in the skin is observed, they stand a chance of a pathogen entering the body and potentially causing an infection.
Besides cuts, pathogens can enter our bodies through our nose, mouth and eyes. Once a pathogen has arrived at a desirable location, it begins to multiply. As its number increases, our body notices the small changes that pathogen makes and sends antibodies to fight the infection.
Most infections are fought off without us recognizing it. On other occasions, the pathogen multiplies too quickly or our bodies are unfamiliar with it and more time is needed to figure out how to fight the infection. This is when we experience the following symptoms: cough, congestion, runny nose, sore throat and feeling tired.
For some (infants, elderly, the immunocompromised), the size of pathogen colony can be much smaller to cause an infection. Extra care should be taken to assure they are not overly exposed to pathogens.
Infants, for example, have under developed immune systems that will struggle to fight pathogens that adults could more easily expel. It is recommended that these individuals be up to date on all vaccinations.
These vaccinations “prime” the immune system to respond faster and more effectively. It is wise to use judgment in the areas these individuals will be exposed and with whom they will come into contact.
It is speculated that winter months show higher infection rates due to the closer proximity of people and not due to the change in weather. If someone is sick and sneezes outside, away from others, chances of that sneeze infecting another person are low.
If that sneeze happens in a classroom with 30 students, however, chances are much higher that it will spread to others. Other ways infections could be spread are through touch (desks or door knobs in that classroom) and the occasional child who returns home from school and sneezes directly into your face –– we’ve all been there.
Truly, the question should be: How do I prevent myself from becoming sick? Common and effective strategies include washing your hands frequently, not touching your face, regularly cleaning areas that are considered “frequently-touched,” not sharing drinks or utensils with others, getting adequate sleep, removing stress (mental, physical, and emotional), not using tobacco, eating more healthy, moderate amounts of exercise and others.
Also trying to avoid exposing others when sick by staying home from work or keeping kids home from school.
In conclusion, a person can become sick from pathogens being passed from one person to another during any weather pattern and in any setting. However, with a simple strategy, individuals can also prevent many infections by changing daily behavior and via vaccinations. These things will improve immune system and overall health.
Kelsey Allen, D.O., is a family medicine physician at Mountain View Medical Clinic in Enterprise. Mountain Medicine is a collaboration between Ron Polk and Allen.