By Jonny Lupsha, Wondrium Staff Writer
Public health figure Dr. Fauci suggested abandoning hand-shaking forever, Newsweek reported. He said that letting go of the long-held social practice would help life return to normal and prevent further disease spread. It would also lighten our immune systems’ load.
According to Newsweek, Dr. Fauci made his surprising recommendation to say goodbye to hand-shaking during a podcast interview for The Wall Street Journal. “The leading infectious disease expert on President Donald Trump’s coronavirus task force told The Wall Street Journal that an end to handshaking would be good for reducing future transmissions of the novel coronavirus and would also cut the number of influenza cases,” the article said.
“Asked to paint a picture of what life may look like once the worst of the novel coronavirus has passed, Dr. Fauci said he could see the country phasing back to normality by doing such things as limiting the number of people who can be at a restaurant or event at any one time.”
Such practices would certainly ease the burden carried by our immune systems, which fight disease around the clock.
Components of the Immune System
According to Dr. Barry Fox, Clinical Professor of Infectious Disease at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, the immune system is composed of four separate components that work together to stave off illness. The first is the Thymus, an organ between your heart and breastbone that “produces T lymphocyte white blood cells.” The T in this case stands for Thymus.
The second part of the immune system is the bone marrow, where Dr. Fox said three different types of cells are produced: red blood cells, white blood cells, and blood clotting elements called platelets. “The marrow is the center of our bones,” he said.
“Thirdly, the spleen on the left side of the abdomen. It synthesizes proteins known as antibodies, and also gets rid of antibody-coated bacteria and old red blood cells.”
The fourth and final part of our immune system is our Lymph system. Dr. Fox said the Lymph system is part of our circulatory system and is made up of a network of vessels that carry clear fluid called lymph. “It works in tandem with lymphoid organs, especially lymph nodes,” he said. “Lymphocyte immune cells are passed through this system and converge in the lymph nodes throughout the body.”
Innate Immunity vs. Adaptive Immunity
Dr. Fox said the immune system is split into two functional divisions: innate immunity and adaptive immmunity.
“We have certain built-in, hence innate, immune features that help protect us when under attack,” he said. “There are physical barriers to invasion from microbes, including the skin and mucous membranes. Other physical barriers include tears, mucus, and stomach acid.”
In addition to these physical barriers, Dr. Fox said, our innate immunity also includes inflammatory responses to invaders or injury. They’ve been identified for over 5,000 years and include redness and warmth, both caused by increased blood flow to a troubled area of the body; pain; and swelling, which is caused by “the movement of fluid into the area.”
On the other hand, our adaptive immune system remembers past illnesses and traumas in order to fight back.
“The adaptive immune system is composed of highly specialized cells that adapt to and learn from prior invaders,” Dr. Fox said. “This is a system that remembers, for example, that you had measles as a child, and will protect you for life against measles.”
Dr. Fox explained that if you get a measles vaccine as a child, the vaccine stimulates your body’s B-cells into either becoming antibody-secreting plasma cells or “memory B-cells.” The memory B-cells stay dormant in your body and wait until they’re needed again. So what happens if you’re exposed to measles again, as an adult?
“The memory B-cells remember the measles virus as part of the secondary immune response,” he said. “Similar to waking a bear out of hibernation, the cells will rapidly start producing large amounts of measles-specific IgG antibodies, [which] will attach themselves to the virus before they can attack healthy body cells.”
Our immune systems keep plenty busy. It’s little wonder that Dr. Fauci recommends severing ties with handshaking in order to give them a rest.
Dr. Barry Fox contributed to this article. Dr. Fox is a Clinical Professor of Infectious Disease at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. He received his undergraduate degree in Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry from Yale University and his medical degree from Vanderbilt University.