Your immune system ‘prepares for battle’ just from seeing sick co-workers

ORANGE, Calif. — Out of sick days? No problem! A researcher from Chapman University says the human immune system actually springs into action just by seeing sick people.

Patricia Lopes, an assistant professor of biological sciences at Chapman University’s Schmid College of Science and Technology, says our bodies and behaviors change when we’re dealing with a virus. With kids going back to school and flu season right around the corner, it won’t surprise many people to see sniffling and sneezing co-workers walking around offices this fall. Luckily, your body sees it too and starts working “overtime” to prevent an illness.

“Our physiology, particularly the immune system — the system that protects the body from invaders — is tightly regulated,” Lopes explains in a university release. “Once we become sick, our physiology can drastically change to support recovery from the disease.”

The new study reveals that humans start undergoing physiology changes before they get sick. Specifically, someone’s body starts changing when it senses that the chances of viral infection are high.

“In other words, our brains can obtain information from diseased people and then elicit changes to our physiology. For example, observing images of sick people can already trigger activation of the immune system,” Lopes says.

The big takeaway, the researcher says, is that parasites impact our lives more than previously thought. Germs start altering our physiology before they even enter our bodies, with the immune system simply “seeing” others dealing with illness and prepping for a fight.

“How this ability to change physiology before getting sick helps animals cope with, or recover from disease is not well known, but could have major impacts on how diseases spread, and on how we care for and study sick humans and other sick animals,” Lopes concludes.

The study is published in the journal Functional Ecology.

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