Doctor discusses benefits of being exposed to cold and flu

Bay Area

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (KRON) – Cold and flu numbers have been extremely low over the last year because of masking and social distancing guidelines.

With restrictions easing, are we going to see people continue to wear masks to avoid getting sick?

The infectious disease doctor tells KRON4 we basically had a non-existent cold and flu season over the past year and that is because of people wearing masks, but she says there is some benefit to being exposed to these more minor pathogens.

“The exposure to pathogens that we have–mild pathogens, actually builds our immune systems,” Dr. Monica Gandhi said. 

As COVID numbers stay low, more people get vaccinated against COVID-19 and we get closer to the June 15th reopening date, mask mandate guidelines are expected to loosen.

“I know it’s really hard right now, coming off of covid, to even imagine being exposed to anything,” Dr. Gandhi said. 

Infectious disease expert and UCSF professor Dr. Monica Gandhi says there are benefits to being exposed to these more mild illnesses like cold and flu.

“It diversifies what is called our microbiome, our diversity of what we live with and how we know how to respond if we see a serious pathogen,” Dr. Gandhi said. 

She says through history we’ve seen how continuing to avoid exposure can have serious consequences.

“Cultures for example that avoid pathogens have had higher rates of autoimmune diseases, allergies, and unfortunately cancers,” Dr. Gandhi said. 

She says knowing all of this, she plans to unmask when appropriate.

“I will feel comfortable unmasking because I am fully vaccinated and I’m really convinced about how powerful these vaccines are and also that I can’t pass it to others and in the future, I’m unlikely to mask every winter,” Dr. Gandhi said. 

She says if you continue to wear your mask, you will likely avoid getting colds.  

There was always a need for these masks because while minor pathogens can help protect you in the long term, serious pathogens, like COVID-19 are something you should not be exposed to.

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