When talking about colds and flu, the more usual topic of interest is regarding the origin of the sickness causing bacteria, whether it is a seasonal flu or contracted from another person that has come in close contact with the patient.
However, a new study shows that social connection is also a relevant point when it comes to having the flu as the lonelier an individual feels, the worse the self-reported symptoms become.
Researchers of the current study collected data from 213 healthy participants relating to their social constructs such as the size of their social networks, variety of said social networks, and how lonely the participant felt. This was done by subjecting the participants to the Social Network Index (SNI) and the Short Loneliness Scale (LON) at baseline.
They were then exposed to rhinovirus 39 (RV39), the common cold virus, and then quarantined for five days where they had to do a subjective self-report on their cold symptoms while being objectively monitored.
What researchers found was that the baseline loneliness among the 160 participants infected with the virus directly predicted the self-reported symptoms over time, with the lonelier participants recording subjectively worse symptoms compared to less lonely participants. Social diversity and size did not predict any cold symptoms.
As such, researchers of the study published by the American Psychological Association concluded that perception of loneliness is more closely related to self-reported illness symptoms compared to objective social isolation, and that these psychosocial factors could aid health care providers understand their patients' experiences better.
Social Networks And Health
This study is not the first time that loneliness and isolation has been linked to overall health. In fact in 2015, loneliness in Scotland was so critical to the general population that it was compared to poverty and poor housing in terms of the damage that it does to the population's health. What's more, loneliness has also been linked to an increased risk for stroke and heart attack. These findings about the relationship between perceived loneliness and adverse health effects seem to be pointing to the idea that human health tends to depreciate when they lack contact with others.
With so much going on in the world today, it seems as though the world is desperate for positive human contact. After all, it has also been seen that sharing a little good news to a partner or a peer is beneficial to promoting good health and well-being.