I fell ill at the tail end of my trip to Washington, the last day in D.C. I had a sore throat and a headache. I attributed both to a lack of sleep and a few too many alcoholic beverages on St. Patrick’s Day. The following day my symptoms got much worse. I had a fever, chills, aches, fatigue, a severe sore throat, and my headache had not let up. That morning I went to a local urgent care in Virginia. The doctor did a rapid strep test and a rapid influenza test. The strep test came back positive and I was given a prescription of antibiotics and ibuprofen. I was asked by my friends, “How did you get sick?” or “Who made you sick?” I didn’t have a definite answer but I had a pretty good idea.
As a biology major, I was taught the germ theory that gained prevalence thanks to the work of Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch. The germ theory basically states that microorganisms cause diseases. We now know there are some diseases like cancer, genetic disorders, and autoimmune diseases that are mostly not caused by microorganisms. There are some exceptions such as HPV causing cervical cancer and infectious mononucleosis preceding autoimmune diseases. However, for the most part the germ theory is spot on. So who gave me an abundance of streptococci? I did not share drinks, kiss anyone, or inhale anyone’s cough or sneeze; therefore I suspect I did not get strep throat from someone else. So I ask again, how did I get sick?
B.J. Palmer was responsible for bringing chiropractic notoriety and credibility in health care, but he was also at odds with mainstream medicine. B.J. Palmer wrote in the early 1900s, “If the germ theory of disease were correct, there’d be no one living to believe it.” This is an interesting counterargument and one that I have to mention because it is going to help my explanation.
There are more than 100 trillion microbes in and on the human body. During my time at NUHS, I was faced with the question, “Is it the seed or the soil.” Do germs make you sick or is it the susceptibility to those germs that makes you sick? I was always taught to never sit on the fence, but there is no other way to answer it. It is both. If susceptibility were not the issue, opportunistic infections would not exist. If germs didn’t cause disease, healthy people would never get sick.
It is documented that when people are immunocompromised, they are more susceptible to opportunistic infections. Studies have shown that stress, lack of sleep, excessive alcohol consumption, malnutrition, and hypothermia can cause immunosuppression. During my trip to D.C., I did not sleep at least 7 hours each night because I was sharing my bed with someone and it was difficult to sleep in a new place. I did not consistently eat, because the meals were scheduled at specific times and I was catching up on sleep or busy with the conference. I was hypothermic, having not brought a coat and was walking around in 30º weather all week. I was stressed from catching a flight, finding a ride to the hotel, and preparing for lobbying on The Hill. I drank alcohol on St. Patrick’s Day. All of these factors lead me to the conclusion that I didn’t catch strep throat; I became susceptible to the streptococci that are present in the oropharynx. Strep throat is one of the opportunistic infections seen in those with HIV; therefore it is biologically plausible that anyone who is in an immunocompromised state can contract strep throat.