Example of claim that it does not weaken the immune system from Abc7News:

"There is no scientific evidence to suggest staying at home weakens your immune system because you're not getting enough exposures," Dr. Patel said. "We build up our immunity over many years, over decades, and this won't take a dramatic hit for spending a few months at home."

Dr. Patel adds that we still expose ourselves to pathogens by going outside and to the grocery store.

Example of claim that it does weaken the immune system from The Center Square:

As the data has come in, which Erickson says he’s collected since December, he asked, “We’ve never ever responded like this in the history of the country, why are we doing this now?”

He said people are worrying too much about the virus because the media is telling them to.

“I’m telling them that sheltering in place decreases your immune system and as we all come out of shelter in place, with a lower immune system and start trading viruses and bacteria, what do you think is going to happen? Disease is going to spike,” he said. “And then you’ve got disease spike amongst a hospital system with furloughed doctors and nurses. This is not the combination we want to set up for a healthy society.”

Neither cite any science. One says there is "no evidence" for it, but does not specify how many studies have even been done on it.


There is what is known as the "Hygiene Hypothesis". This theory holds that the lack of exposure to pathogens (especially as a child) can lead to several illnesses later in life.

From Clinical and Experimental Allergy:

The ‘hygiene hypothesis’ as originally formulated by Strachan, proposes that a cause of the recent rapid rise in atopic disorders [ie, allergies] could be a lower incidence of infection in early childhood,transmitted by unhygienic contact with older siblings.

From Current Opinion on Pulmonary Medicine:

Reduced exposure to childhood infections may explain the increased prevalence of allergic diseases in industrialized countries (the hygiene hypothesis).

From the Mayo Clinic web site:

Children growing up in rural areas, around animals and in larger families seem to develop asthma less often than do other children. According to the hygiene hypothesis, this is due to increased exposure to particular viruses, bacteria or parasites.

The hygiene hypothesis proposes that childhood exposure to germs and certain infections helps the immune system develop. This teaches the body to differentiate harmless substances from the harmful substances that trigger asthma. In theory, exposure to certain germs teaches the immune system not to overreact.

This effect has been blamed not only for asthma and allergies, but also for increased susceptibility to inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis, and type I diabetes. Wikipedia

The effect has also been blamed for the increased incidence of polio in the 20th century, though current researchers tend to discount this.

Unfortunately, it's impossible, at this point in time, to determine to what extent "shelter in place", et al, has changed people's exposure to pathogens, and whether such changes (if they have happened) involve the particular pathogens and populations that would be of significance.

As such, this question involves an "unresolved current event", and will need more investigation.

  • Very interesting that there's actually reputable organizations discussing this "hygiene hypothesis", rather than it just having a truthy quality. Considering the typical vaccine regiment in industrialized countries includes 30 to 60 doses all given in childhood, how does that exposure to the immune system not undo this theory?
    – fredsbend
    Sep 14 '20 at 15:14
  • The Dwightian school of thought suggests we should set up hand desanitizing stations.
    – fredsbend
    Sep 14 '20 at 15:23
  • 1
    "When I was a kid, we ate dirt and we liked it." Sep 14 '20 at 16:08
  • 3
    @fredsbend, a single handful of dirt contains far more antigen candidates than an entire childhood course of vaccines.
    – Mark
    Sep 14 '20 at 21:45

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