Our bodies handle infectious diseases in a couple different ways; there are adaptive responses, such as coughing, sneezing, vomiting, and diarrhea, and immune responses. Whether it is because adaptive responses are associated with sickness or because they are just really unpleasant, there seems to be a negative perception of them.
It isn’t really uncommon then to want to treat the uncomfortable symptoms that accompany infectious disease. But in fact, suppressing the adaptive responses your body has can have harmful repercussions as far as overcoming the infection goes. Our bodies have adapted these reactions to rid itself of the pathogens. Responses like vomiting or coughing are the body’s means of physically flushing or expelling as much of the pathogen as possible.
So why do we generally act to treat these symptoms through suppression if this causes the body to house more of the pathogen and work harder to destroy it?
In many cases, these symptoms are thought of as part of the pathogen and not the body’s protective response to it. Pharmaceutical companies that fund the clinical treatment of these adaptive responses are unlikely to support the idea that simply resting and recuperating may be best to allow the body to fight the sickness.
Why should we have to suffer pain if we have the option not to? Chapter 8 of Medical Anthropology introduces the concept of a high ‘pain intolerance’ in the U.S. because of the option to treat adaptive responses. Along with this idea, if patients seek medical advice and what they get is recommendation to do nothing but take it easy, rest and recuperate, they may see that their money was poorly spent at the doctor’s office. Perhaps this could be remedied by the same advice with suggestions to take needed supplements afterwards to fortify bodily systems that were drained from the sickness?
People are expected to continue on with life even in the face of sickness. Our busy schedules don’t allow extraneous time to be sick, so naturally quick fixes of the symptoms of pathogens are widely sought after. But is this best for our health? And wouldn’t the medical community, entrusted with the responsibility to endorse health, have an obligation to direct us in the healthiest option, not just give us a drug to mask the symptoms?
At the same time, it may be a public health concern to not treat the symptoms if individuals are still going to participate in their social obligations. Coughing, sneezing, diahhrea are all the body’s way to expelling infection, therefore increasing its presence to the rest of a population and increasing other people’s susceptibility to it.