Developing COVID-19 immunity

A robust immune system protects you from getting sick following exposure to germs and viruses. Yes, recovering from COVID-19 makes your immune system stronger.
A robust immune system protects you from getting sick following exposure to germs and viruses. Yes, recovering from COVID-19 makes your immune system stronger.

A robust immune system protects you from getting sick following exposure to germs and viruses. Many people wonder if COVID-19 strengthens your immune system. The short answer is yes. Learn more about how recovering from COVID-19 makes your immune system stronger.

Any time you catch a virus and recover from the illness, you retain antibodies. These antibodies help your body fight off future infections so that you either don't get sick or have milder symptoms.

Medical experts conduct research to see how long COVID-19 antibodies stay in your system after recovering from the virus. One study showed that 95% of participants who recovered from COVID-19 maintained antibodies for as long as eight months following infection.

Understanding antibodies

Having antibodies to resist bacteria and viruses makes your immune system stronger. When you recover from an illness, antibodies circulate through your body, looking for signs of a similar infection. When your body recognizes the virus or bacteria a second time, you are better prepared to fight off the disease.

Having COVID-19 antibodies strengthens your immune system in two specific ways. They enable the T cells in your blood to identify dangerous pathogens faster to destroy threats. The T cells also preserve a template of the virus so that the B cells in your blood can create new antibodies as needed. Vaccines are a way of developing antibodies without getting COVID-19 and of reinforcing your immune system if you've already survived the disease.

Risks of COVID-19 to your immune system 

Reinfection

There isn't enough research yet to tell how long COVID-19 antibodies last in people who recover from an infection. There are reports of people who get the virus a second time, indicating that immunity isn't guaranteed. Still, a second infection is likely to be less severe thanks to antibodies.

Social distancing

Throughout childhood, life exposes you to germs and viruses that then strengthen your immune system. When you are re-exposed to an illness your T cells respond quickly, and your B cells create fresh antibodies. But some illnesses kill far too often before your immune system can fight back, and epidemics can spread so quickly that the population and its medical resources can't keep up. Trying to slow a deadly epidemic can be like trying to stop a runaway train.

 Not getting a disease at all remains the best way to keep healthy and avoid spreading a disease further. Because of the many unknowns that came along with COVID-19, experts prioritized social distancing. Medical experts wanted to learn more about treating and preventing infection before widespread exposure. But any considerations need to be balanced in this ongoing epidemic.

While isolation and vaccination both offer protection from COVID-19, studies also show that social distancing can harm your immune system. Being isolated from others can make you feel lonely and increase stress. Both of these negative feelings can weaken your immune system. More than 148 studies show conclusive evidence that people who are more social are 50% less likely to die. 

Maximizing a COVID-19 immune system boost

Recovering from COVID-19 can only do so much for your immune system. While antibodies do offer protection against future infection, you also have to take steps to strengthen your immune system in other ways.

Signs of a weak immune system include:

  • Feeling stress – Stress reduces your body's ability to create white blood cells that fight off infection. 
  • Having frequent colds or illnesses – Two to three minor illnesses per year is normal, but more than that is a sign that your immune system is weak. 
  • Gas, bloating, diarrhea, and constipation – Around 70% of your immune system is located in your digestive system.
  • Feeling tired – If you feel like you never have energy, it may be because your immune system is conserving energy to fight off infections. 

The good news is that you can take steps to strengthen your immune system and maximize antibodies. Anything you can do to maintain a healthy lifestyle boosts your immune system. Some actions you can take to improve your immune system include cutting out these damaging lifestyle choices:

You can also take steps to boost your immune system:

  • Prioritize fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats in your diet
  • Exercise often
  • Watch your weight
  • Wash your hands well
  • Get enough sleep
  • Stay current on your vaccines

Talk to your doctor

If you have concerns about COVID-19 or your immune system strength, talk to your doctor. They can help you understand your risks and identify ways to strengthen your immune system.

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Medically Reviewed on 12/6/2021
References
SOURCES:

Harvard Medical School: "How to boost your immune system."

MIT Medical: "Is all this social distancing weakening our immune systems?"

National Institutes of Health: "Lasting immunity found after recovery from COVID-19."

Penn Medicine: "6 Signs You Have a Weakened Immune System."