We have recently heard a bit here and there about herd immunity as it relates to the COVID virus. So, I want to explain how it actually works and why it is vitally important that we actually let it happen. This is a technical concept, so we should define some terms first. To start, let’s talk about the exposure side of things.
Pathogen- Disease causing agent.
Exposure- Having contact with a pathogen.
Pathogenicity- Some pathogens are better at causing disease than others.
Infective Dose- The amount of exposure necessary to cause infection. Incubation- The time necessary for pathogen replication thereby increasing its numbers. Once the pathogen reaches the infective level, then one becomes “sick”.
Transmissibility- How easily a pathogen (contagion) is passed from one person to another.
Fomites- Inoculated surfaces (surfaces with the pathogen on them). Now let’s define some terms relating to the body’s immune response.
Detection- Establishing the presence of a pathogen foreign invader.
Presentation- The pathogen is presented to the immune system for recognition. Recognition- The immune cells of the body recognize the unique chemical structure of the pathogen.
Immune Response- The cellular (white blood cells) and humoral (chemicals including histamine, antibodies and various cytokines) immune response attacks and neutralizes the pathogen.
Natural Immunity- The immune system “remembers” the unique chemical structure of that particular pathogen. This allows for rapid immune response and neutralization of the pathogen upon subsequent exposures, thereby preventing the attainment of infective dose levels. At the worst, one may experience a mild version of the disease.
Now we are ready to have this discussion.
Herd immunity occurs when infected (symptomatic or not) individuals have casual contact with others in the herd (or the herd contacts inoculated surfaces). This provides the herd with exposure to sub-infective doses. These low level exposures then activate the immune system which becomes sensitized to the pathogen and is primed for subsequent exposures. With the herd sensitized to the pathogen (contagion), the potential for fulminant illness diminishes. This results in a dead end for the pathogen as there is no one else to infect that hasn’t already been exposed casually (or has had and has recovered from the disease).
So, here is the problem; quarantines, isolation and antibacterial/disinfection of everything do not permit herd immunity to take place. The consequence of these maneuvers is that many will not develop natural herd immunity. The fact that herd immunity has not been allowed to occur in those under a stay at home order, means that those people may be infected at a later date. So, once quarantines are relaxed, and stay at home orders are lifted, the infectious process can resume once more, putting at risk those that have not achieved resistance through herd immunity.
I’m not saying that we should get out there and share nasopharyngeal secretions (gross right?). What I am saying, is that we need to take some common sense precautions (not quarantines, isolation, stay at home orders) and permit casual contact with each other and fomites (inoculated surfaces), and let herd immunity happen. Nature has this figured out already. If we don’t let the natural immune process of herd immunity play out, it will just prolong the public health threat and sets us up for rebound infection.
Disease is a part of life and living. Some (the weak) will die. It is just a fact of life. The death of thousands occurs every flu season. Each flu season claims the lives 14,000 to 80,000 due to flu related illness. While this virus is not the same as H1N1, the true epidemiological impact of COVID-19 is yet to be determined, and even then, it will be imprecise. If we have difficulty determining what has already transpired in a disease event, what moves us to put so much faith in man’s ability to predict the future of a disease event? You wouldn’t know it, but there is not a consensus of expert opinion on this issue.
So, once quarantine, stay at home and isolation mandates are lifted, don’t be surprised by an uptick in the incidence of infection. It is just nature working it all out since we didn’t let natural immunity occur (nature will ultimately have its way). Then naturally, disease incidence will come down (for which experts and politicians will of course take credit) and we can get back to running with the herd…till next time.
If you haven’t already, send the results of your most recent blood work for me to analyze through our sister company Veritas Health Analytics. Bring your reports to your next visit, or you can email them to firstname.lastname@example.org
. Though my evaluation may be less flattering than your medical doctor’s, it will give you vital information about where your body and health needs to be supported. The name of the disease that you have (diagnosis) becomes less relevant, to the degree that you regain your health. My mission is to support health, not simply manage disease.
Yours for Better Health,
Dr. Henry Bulitta