CARVILLE: Immune system is first line of internal defense |

CARVILLE: Immune system is first line of internal defense

Phil Carville
Fitness Columnist
Phil Carville

What is it? How to protect yourself? When will it go away?

These are all very important questions affecting the lives of millions of persons. The correct answers are essential for your personal and our national health.

What is it?

A virus is a very small strip of genetic material wrapped in a protein. It’s so small that it cannot be seen with optical microscopes.

The concept of a ’virus’ wasn’t discovered until 1892 when scientists, who thought a disease in tobacco plants was a bacterium, found that they could not isolate the bacterium using extremely fine micro-filters that screen out bacteria. Their conclusion was something like, “How the hell did something get by the filter? Must be incredibly small.” They didn’t know what it was.

Six years later, in 1898, a Dutch scientist, Martinus Beijerinck, named it a “virus” derived from the Latin word for ‘poison.’ Beijerinck was granted the Leeuwenhoek Medal in 1905 and is considered one of the founders of “virology.”

The science is called “virology” not “biology” because a virus does not meet the definition of “life.” A virus is not alive, nor is it dead, because it can overwhelm the immune system and then can replicate itself by using the cellular functions of the host — in this case, you.

Interesting factoid: The Leeuwenhoek Medal is granted every 10 years to a scientist judged to have made the most significant contribution of microbiology during the preceding decade. The most recent recipient is the American Craig Venter, who led the team that made the first draft sequence of the human genome.

Protect Yourself

We have all watched the news and know about “social distancing,” masks, hand washing, et cetera, so there is no sense in repeating those precautions here.

However, your first line of “internal defense” is your immune system, which depends upon a healthy lifestyle. The single most important step you can take is maintaining a strong immune system.

You can strengthen your immune system just by using common sense: don’t smoke, eat a diet high in fruits and vegetables, exercise, get adequate sleep, drink alcohol in moderation and maintain a healthy weight.


As we age, our immune response capability is reduced. The elderly are more at risk for respiratory infections. No one knows precisely why this happens, but it may correlate with the thymus gland atrophying with age and producing fewer T cells, a type of white blood cell that kills cancer cells and cells infected with viruses.

In a longer term sense, you should keep your immune system functioning at a high level not only for the coronavirus but for all the critters in this virus family… none of them seem to be good guys.


Yes! Regular exercise is one of the pillars of healthy living. As you know it improves cardiovascular health, lowers blood pressure, helps to control body weight, but also contributes to a healthy immune system.


Like any army, the immune system army in your body marches on its stomach. Your T cells and all the other privates, corporals, sergeants and other bodily warriors are sustained by the choices you make about your diet. Don’t be stupid! Follow Michael Pollan’s advice “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”


There is a close link between the mind and the body. Many diseases are found to be linked to emotional stress.

Stress is difficult to define and is highly personal. It is chronic stress, over time, that is most dangerous. If you are finding the isolation of quarantine stressful, reach out to friends and family via phone, Skype or Zoom and just talk. “How is it going?” or “Feeling isolated and wanted to say ‘Hi.’”

Will it end?

Yes, it will. But it will take time. We should see a slowing of infections if we follow normal precautions.

Hopefully a vaccine will be created, then longer lasting protection will result. Until then, take care, be sensible and be thankful that Dr. Fauci is here.

Phil Carville is a co-owner of the South Yuba Club. He is happy to answer questions or respond to comments. He can be reached at

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