Do Healthy Kids Get Sick?

Heather Dessinger

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I Have Imagined You In Your Underwear, Or actually, just those of you that have attended my classes. Public speaking is, uh, not my thing, and I make no apologies for picturing you in pigtails and a purple polka dot sleeper with footies.

So, a few months ago I was sitting in the audience listening to my friend Dr. Betsy speak on nutrition and getting my polka dot imaginator revved up for my turn. Somehow, between the distraction of the butterfly riot in my stomach and the way my feet managed to turn into icy clumps in the middle of a Texas heat wave, a question of Dr. Betsy’s managed to grab my attention.

Do Healthy Kids Get Sick?

My first reaction was to nod my head yes. She paused meaningfully.

No? She smiled a playful smile and said nothing.

Back to yes. Definitely yes. Healthy kids get sick. Or do they? Oy vey.

By the time she answered the question I was so far down the rabbit hole I didn’t even hear. What I said when I stood up to speak that night I’ll never know, because all I could think was “WELL DO THEY OR DON’T THEY?!?!?” I am going to attempt to answer that question in this post, but first . . .

It Would Probably Help If I Defined “Sick,” Don’t You Think?

“When we come down with a cold or flu most of us imagine that some stress or other has weakened our ‘defenses’ or our ‘resistance’ and allowed ‘a bug’ (a virus or bacterium) to enter our body, where it multiplies and attacks us from within.

We think of this as ‘an infection,’ that the new bug within us is making us sick, and that we will feel better as soon as our immune system has killed it off. When we don’t feel better soon enough, we might seek remedies or antibiotics to kill the bug more effectively,” writes Tedd Koren in his book, Childhood Vaccination: Questions All Parents Should Ask.

Sounds about right, huh? Meaningful pause.

Are you sure about that? Playful smile.

Believe it or not, that definition is completely wrong. From the moment we are born and every day thereafter we are “infected” with trillions of microbes – including pathogenic microbes like strep, staph, tuberculosis and diphtheria – usually without any symptoms.

Typhoid Mary – the infamous cook who was forcibly quarantined because she carried the salmonella bacteria into the homes the  families she worked for – is a classic example. She never got sick with typhoid fever and neither did many people she “infected,” yet others died from exposure to her. So if the mere presence of these germs in our bodies is not what truly makes us sick, what does?

Good Question

It is the rapid proliferation of them in our bodies. Oh, you knew that already? Why am I bothering will all this nonsense about where germs live most of their lives if they’re basically doing the the thing we’ve been taught they do: proliferate and make us sick?

The reason is this: We need to stop thinking of these germs as predators from the outside and start thinking of them as scavengers within. They are not attacking us, they are opportunists that clean up the messes we are leave in our own bodies. Gross, I know, but true.

Most of the time we live in relative peace with a host of pathogenic germs. “Asymptomatic carriers,” is the official term, I believe. But too much stress, or sugar, or whatever knocks our body off balance biochemically, leaving a glut of food that one germ or another prefers, so it takes us up on our generous offer and has a nice old sit down dinner. Does this make us sick? Not really.

If the microbes are predators, “we would expect their proliferation to coincide with the worst of our symptoms, but this is not the case. Most of the germ proliferation, which we falsely imagine as an inner attack, happens during the incubation period of the illness when we have little or no symptoms. Viruses and bacteria may enter our bloodstream in large numbers, and may even start to leave our body . . . without any awareness of illness on our part besides possible minor malaise, headache or tiredness.” (Koren p. 107)

What DOES Make Us Sick – And Why It’s A Good Thing!

Oh my goodness, are you still here? Okay then, I am going to cut to the chase. Illness is not caused by the germs, it is caused by US. Imagine that our bodies are a house, and that those biochemical disturbances I mentioned are like dust and dirt and bits of food that accumulate on the kitchen floor over time.

“Our immune system is the housekeeper of our body. Usually our inner housekeeper keeps well abreast of her work quietly, escorting dead and dying cells to the exits of our body and making sure that waste matter and poisons are cleared from the body . . . From birth until death, this ongoing maintenance work never rests, and is responsible for our keeping healthy and free of illness. But occasionally our immune system/housekeeper determines that a deep cleaning is needed. That’s when the dust flies and we get sick!

If you are wondering where the germs are in this comparison of the human body to a household, they are the flies, ants, cockroaches or mice which live in the house’s inner recesses unreached by the housekeeper and which feed on the crumbs and kitchen scraps that accumulate in the house.”

And what, do you imagine, is the housekeepers favorite cleaning tool? “Inflammation, as the word implies, is like a fire in the body which burns up the waste and debris, along with the germs which feed on waste and debris, and cleanses the body. Thus it is our immune system which causes us to become sick, by creating inflammation to drive out infection and renew us.”

Here’s the kicker: The stronger our immune system, the stronger the illness. Bouts of intense illness – or “healing crisis” as they are sometimes called – indicate the presence of a thorough housekeeper. Chronic symptoms of “feeling bad” and fatigue without periods of acute illness, on the other hand, are signs of low-grade toxicity in the body – “the result of our housekeeper being too weak to do her job and allowing kitchen debris to accumulate, followed inevitably by the flies and ants.”

In Other Words, I Don’t Worry If My Kids Get Sick

I’m more concerned if they don’t from time to time! I will say this, though. Very young children sometimes take a long time to get their first illness. This is partly because it takes a long time for debris to build up and also because they spend a lot of time at home, where they have natural immunities to their environment. Many kids do not get sick until they are old enough to venture out a little more.

Outbreaks, Tylenol and Decongestants

After this post went live I got this question: “I like this but sometimes it’s also caused by outside germs, right? Like a couple of weeks ago my whole family got a stomach virus . . . just trying to understand the concept.”

Good question! Sometimes we do encounter germs that are not already living in our bodies. That was the case with many people who met Typhoid Mary. However, some got sick and some didn’t – that all comes down to whether the “new bug” found any fuel to thrive on in the new people they encountered.

Why then, in families, does it seems that for the most part EVERYONE gets sick when one person does? There can be a lot of reasons for this. Families have similar immune systems, share the same environment and eat the same things. Because of this, their bodies tend to collect the same kind of debris. When a bug crosses their path that just so happens to prefer that kind of food, their bodies burn it up quick to starve the new bug off (i.e. they get sick).

Should I use decongestants and/or give them to my child? Obviously, I cannot answer that for you, but I will say this: Mucus is like the ectoplasm from Ghostbusters, but in a good way! When bacteria and viruses overpopulate in the body it reacts by suspending/neutralizing them in slimy goo. They are then pushed out of the body via a runny nose or by coughing up phlegm. Using decongestants cripples our first line of defense by allowing bacteria/viruses to penetrate our bloodstream and go to our organs instead of being expelled. For babies I prefer to use the Snot Sucker to assist the housekeeper in pushing the debris out. For those old enough to use one I recommend a neti pot.

What about Tylenol for a fever? Is that okay? I’m so glad you asked! It’s important to remember that the housekeeper raised the thermostat for a reason – inflammation and fever clear debris from the body. Personally, I choose to trust the housekeeper and not interfere with her work. πŸ™‚

Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor and this is not medical advice. See full disclaimer here.

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Heather is a holistic health educator, herbalist, DIYer, Lyme and mold warrior. Since founding in 2009, Heather has been taking complicated health research and making it easy to understand. She shares tested natural recipes and herbal remedies with millions of naturally minded mamas around the world. 

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68 thoughts on “Do Healthy Kids Get Sick?”

  1. Thank you so much for this article!!! I can’t tell you how this has cleared a lot of potential “mommy guilt” from my life. My kiddos don’t get sick very often, but every time they do I have a little panic: “what am I doing wrong?! They eat well, sleep well, no sugar, vaccinations, etc.! WHY ARE THEY SICK?!?!” Thankfully, I can relax a little now. πŸ™‚ I hope I get to have you picture me in footie jammies and pigtails sometime…I’d love to hear you talk. Or maybe I’ll just show up in that and save your imagination the trouble. πŸ˜‰ hehe

      • haha! and I look fantastic in pigtails. πŸ˜‰ One other question: What do you think about limiting or eliminating dairy products during sick times? I was always taught that it made more mucus, and so should be avoided…any ideas? (I don’t have access to raw dairy at the moment, πŸ™ but we eat the “cleanest” dairy products available.)

        • There is an article I tried briefly to find real quick for you, but it talks about the A1 and A2 strains of cows, and how the A1 strain of dairy products creates mucus (and disease), while the A2 strain of cows and dairy products DO NOT. Unfortunately, about 90+% of commercial dairies use Holstein cows, which are of the A1 strain. The A2 strains in the U.S. are limited to Jersey and Guernsey cows. I am so lucky I am able to get Jersey raw milk where I live (I count my blessings daily!) but also lucky to know that science has proven that this type of milk does NOT cause mucus.

          So my thoughts would be that even if you did drink raw milk in your area, if it was from a Holstein cow, then it would still be mucus causing. It would still provide potent enzymes your body needs, but it would still be from the A1 strain of cows.

          • Well lucky us, we get raw milk from Jersey cows too! (Just started a couple months ago.) That’s so interesting. I have noticed that the milk we get doesn’t seem to make mucus at all. I didn’t know there was a scientific reason! πŸ™‚

          • Since you’re talking about Holsteins and Jerseys, I’m guessing that your comment centers mostly on the commercial dairy breeds. Do you know if they have ever tested the milk of other, lesser-known breeds? I would love to have a Highland or Randall on the homestead someday, as they are both very hardy breeds of cattle… but I would love to know what “type” of milk they produce.

            Also, has this testing ever been performed on goat milk?

  2. You are actually a clever writer: Well done post. Although, I still find this inflammation and sickness stuff a little counter intuitive, like ‘I gotta fix this’.

    Good Job,

  3. Jessica Savill – Ah, so it wasn’t just me! I actually emailed her this morning to find out what she actually said because I needed closure πŸ™‚

  4. What an excellent post. It’s been such a process for me to let go of the so-called safety net of Tylenol and conventional medicine. But as I gather more and more information about the whole picture of health and our bodies, it sure makes a lot of sense to let the housekeeper do her thing! Thanks for this post, I’ll have to share it and see what folks think about it….

      • You got it for sure! I needed this information for a patient with ‘sick’ kids after I told her they were not sick, they were healthy! Thank you for putting it into better words than I ever could.

  5. We just went through this yesterday! My daughter is 4 and hasn’t been sick in 2 years. (Incidentally, the last vaccine she had was at her 2 yr “well check,” and we have stopped vaccinating indefinitely.) She had a fierce tummy bug that made her vomit for 6 hours, while running fever, and then had a sore throat, headache, and body aches for the rest of the day. She ran 102 for 24 hours exactly. Right before her fever broke, she had one more big throwing up episode, which followed a horrible headache. After she vomited again, her fever broke, she perked up, and slept through the night with no fever. Woke up this morning happy as a lark, hungry, and ready to play outside! It was a little scary for that 24 hours, but we let the illness run it’s course and didn’t interfere (although we did take her to the urgent care clinic to be tested for strep because this is how she presented with strep when she had it 2 years ago). I am thankful for a short-lived virus that gave her immune system a little exercise and cleaned her out, but didn’t stick around too long! The human body is amazing if we just let it do it’s thing!

  6. WOW! Great information! I knew most of it already, but you organized it in such a way that it grabbed me right away. One question: How high of a fever should one let their child(ren) get before seeking help? I’m for the most part a holistic mama and I know that what my mainstream doctor tells me is not always the best advice. Our holistic pediatrician does not treat acute issues, only chronic.

    Thanks for the info! Your site looks awesome. I’m subscribing today!!! πŸ™‚

    • Hi AnnMarie – Thanks for subscribing! The book I referenced gives a lot of great info on that very subject. Even if you are not considering the question of vaccines I highly recommend it just for the fever info πŸ™‚

      • In other words, I don’t have a number for you, but let’s just say I thought fevers were a lot scarier before I read the book. It’s incredibly well-researched and informative.

  7. Great post. Great analogy and description of what happens when the healthy are sick. We haven’t been sick in a while, though. I sure hope this cleanse staves off any holiday housecleaning!

  8. Great post and such a great encouragement to moms everywhere! My kids used to catch every virus that passed in the wind when they were little guys. We were blessed to let all their ‘sicknesses’ including pertussis, run their course with out intervention. I do have to say, now that they are older (10 and 13) they get sick very little and when they do they recover quite quickly. The beauty of this is, if you can get through those early years with out too much intervention, things get much, much easier.

  9. Great article – I learned something new today – thanks for that!!!

    I stopped using tylenol and other OTC drugs for my kids, and myself, a few years ago and what a huge improvement!! They are rarely sick for more than about 24 hours and this happens maybe 2-3 times per year. The moms I know that medicate (most of them, unfortunately) their kids are sick for 4-5 days and typically end up at the clinic. Plus they are sick many many times a year – definitely not just a housecleaning, if you are sick that often, I don’t think. These people will nod and agree with you when you say how important it is to let the body do it’s job and then jr. gets sick and out comes the meds.
    In my opinion, otc drugs for kids are more for the parents than the kids. It’s easier to deal with a sick kid if they don’t APPEAR sick – then everyone can carry on with their lives, relatively uninterrupted, by the illness. But, it just prolongs the illness and weakens their immune system. Very counter productive in my opinion.

  10. I love this post! What a great follow up to you and Dr. Taylor’s presentations. I learned so much that night. I remember telling my friend, Donna, that all of that wonderful information was “blowing my mind!” Ha! Thank you so much for sharing.

  11. Hi! So, I’ve followed a LOT of your advice on myself before I’ll try it on my child b/c I have to KNOW something that is so opposite of what I’ve known my whole life. I drank nettle tea, a lot, I used steam with the various recommended herbs, rubbed peppermint essential oil mixed with grapeseed oil on my feet, chicken soup with lots of garlic, avoided all sugar, etc etc and I was sick for days. I lost my voice, I felt horrible- it wasn’t the quicker sickness that is less horrible than one treated with antihistamines and decongestants, it was much longer and worse. My baby gets sick almost every time (pretty much every other week- this time it’s been three weeks without sickness, but that’s a first) he goes to nursery starting from the first time he went at seven months, so it doesn’t make sense to me that it’s unrelated to germ exposure. Can you help me understand this? He has never had formula, I feed him whole foods, no wheat, no oats, sometimes some rice rusks when I’m desperate for a snack and can’t carry fresh fruit or veggies with me, but no traditional baby cereals. He’s not quite one yet. I don’t want to NOT give him acetaminophen b/c of what would be conjecture on my part, when the medicine would help him feel better! So, since the advice that I’ve been trying on myself has not worked, I don’t want to discontinue giving it to him. What advice can you give for me in this situation?

    • Kate – My point is not that we do not share germs with each other, but that germs in fact live inside our bodies all the time. Typhoid Mary did indeed affect some people that came into contact with her, but others were just fine. The difference is our inner ecology – whether the germs find fuel to thrive within us. I don’t know enough details about your situation to say anything specifically (and besides, I’m not a medical professional), but in general I would recommend introducing a probiotic to a baby that is sick often. An abundance of good bacteria in the infant gut actually trains the immune system to recognize and neutralize threats. (You can read about all the other great things they can do at

      In my opinion, letting an illness run it’s course does not always mean it is a quick, easy thing. For some people that may be the case, just like some people have quick and easy labors. Me? even with regular chiropractic care (which is proven to shorten the duration of labor) I’ve had two incredibly long, difficult labors. Does that mean chiropractic care doesn’t work? No, it’s just the way my body does labor. In fact, if I had given up on chiro when my son was born I may very well have ended up with a c-section. After almost two days of very slow progression I was really and truly exhausted beyond words. Just when it seemed I wasn’t going to be able to do it I received a chiro adjustment that helped reposition my son’s head in my pelvis. The change was so substantial that my water broke almost immediately and I gave birth shortly thereafter.

      My advice? Don’t let anyone talk you into something, including me. Do your research and trust yourself <3

      • I see, that makes sense! And I have read your ‘bugs’ post several times! πŸ™‚ I definitely don’t mind new ideas (or else I wouldn’t keep reading your blog! haha) but for the sake of my conscience I have to fully understand it myself before I use it on my baby, so I very much appreciate your taking the time to help me understand. I talked your article over with my husband last night before I got your response and we both agreed that it made a lot of sense. Thank you for clarifying what I needed help with!

  12. Thank you for this! It makes so much sense to me and reaffirms my beliefs in not treating with over the counter meds (or prescription meds for that matter). I love your blog!

    • And I just read your comment up above in response to Kate S. It makes me wonder…I am taking a probiotic (custom probiotics) and my two older kids (5 and 3) are as well, but should I be giving my 4 month old Micah πŸ™‚ a probiotic as well. No sickness yet. Would that be beneficial to him or could it mess with his system? Your thoughts? I promise to research this myself, but I’m just wondering what you think.

      • Hi Jenni! Even though I did everything possible to ensure that my son got plenty of good bacteria from day one (the importance of which I wrote about here and here, I still think introducing probiotic rich foods early on is vital to a child’s health. Unless a child was born via c-section, is consuming formula or has another factor present that indicates the child may have poor gut flora, I wait until around six months to introduce a probiotic. My Micah takes Baby Biotic ( I don’t want to tamper too much so I don’t give it to him every single day, but I feel good about doing what I can to ensure a healthy gut. Does that help?

        • Yup. Thanks. BTW – I also used the same tactics that you used to help Micah get a rush of good bacteria. I have a lot of guilt over not being knowledgeable with my first two children, but I am thankful for what I was able to do for my Micah.

  13. Thanks for this. It’s very reassuring. I am wondering if homeopathic remedies and herbal tinctures are still appropriate. What would you do if you were told your child’s eardrum was close to rupturing? I am taking precautions and making mullen and garlic oil etc., but as that was my nightmare last winter, I am always wondering. Probably since I am prepared it will be something else this winter!

  14. Very interesting. So, I have a question: Do you think people who intercept “a bug” with fever reducers and other medication get sick more often? Do you think if they allowed the immune system to clean house thoroughly the first time is would prevent subsequent times of sickness? I swear, there are people I know who are always sick during “sick season”, and I know they are going to the doctor to get meds and using Nyquil/DayQuil like is’s going out of style!

    • I don’t have any studies at my fingertips right now, but yes I think that is the case for some individuals. To add to that, I recently sat in on a lecture which presented compelling info about how fevers might activate the cancer killing mechanism of our immune system. Personally, I think allowing fevers to run their course (in most situations) is very beneficial long term.

  15. Some of what you say is true, to a degree. A lot is bunk. You don’t take into account the virulance factor of a pathogen.which explains why some people get sick and some don’t. Sure if you take good care of yourself and let your body do its job most of the time you will be fine. The simple fact is if a mcdonalds addict and a whole foods addict get exposed to polio, you are both going to get sick. A million pounds of kale, gallons of echinacia tea, and gobs of honey wont stop it. It is misleading people. To the woman.who’s child is.chronically. sick, PLEASE have your child evaluated by a doctor for an immune issue.

  16. Nice article. It’s my understanding that pathogens also eat up weak cells in our body, so the germs themselves are kind of like house cleaners too. I think of getting sick as sort of a detox.

    Getting sick with run of the mill bugs is helpful, sure, but never getting sick isn’t a bad sign, either. As we’ve improved out diets, my son and I don’t really get sick anymore. I guess our housekeepers are able to keep up. However, when something does eventually hit us hard, I’m going to tell myself it’s just a deep cleaning πŸ˜‰

    As for outside germs people were asking about…I’d say about three times in the last year my son, my husband and I all got exposed to some germ and while my son and I only got minor signs of it my husband would get full blown sick. We eat a strictly nutritious diet while he eats some junk food and non-traditional grain products and also no probiotic foods.

    I would say that frequent illness is sign that the immune system is having a hard time keeping up with the housework for whatever reason, and that should be investigated.

  17. So I am 32 and I never get sick, other than some sinus-y stuff. The last time I was very ill was in early 2006 and it was bronchitis verging on pneumonia (basically I let it go until I was having trouble breathing, went to er on a Sunday with no health insurance and they didn’t want to do a chest x-ray. So, they treated me for bronchitis and said if I didn’t improve in 2 days to get my butt to a doctor). I’ve never been sick much my entire life and rarely went to a doctor when I was. Therefore, I always thought I was very healthy!

    This statement: “Chronic symptoms of β€œfeeling bad” and fatigue without periods of acute illness, on the other hand, are signs of low-grade toxicity in the body – β€œthe result of our housekeeper being too weak to do her job and allowing kitchen debris to accumulate, followed inevitably by the flies and ants.” is SO ME! I always feel extremely tired and in late 2005 I got this persistent annoying feeling that I can’t clear my throat (post nasal drip, the doctors I finally saw about it think it is related to acid reflux).

    I recently found the WAPF and your blog as well as others like Healthy Home Economist and I am slowly making changes. I am now taking FCLO and trying to eliminate processed foods and increase the nourishing foods I take in. So after this long explanation…what to do next? Probiotics??? Sorry so long, this just blew my mind!

  18. I see it. I agree with so many things you’ve written. We too prefer not to go the conventional medicine route. We don’t get sick very often, and usually it’s hard and swift. 2 weeks ago my 4 year old got a fever, 101ish and under, for 24 hours, give or take. She complained of a headache for the first bit, and then off and on during the fever, and also a sore throat some. Then she was fine. 3 days later, my 3 year old got a fever under 102, and chills all of a sudden and had it for 24 hours also. I began to give everyone in the house all the herbal immune boosters I have on hand, etc. We figured they had gotten the same thing, and probably got it playing on the indoor playground at a fast food restaurant that we occasionally take them to to let them play when the weather’s not good. NEVER AGAIN! Anyway, after the fever was gone, the 3 year old started to complain that her feet hurt, and upon investigation, found that she had little hive or blister-looking bumps. Googled that and discovered they had many symptoms of hand, foot and mouth virus, common in pre-school aged children. After I got over my mortification (I’d never heard of this before), I did more research and was glad to know that I’d been doing the right herbal things. Recovery was swift. Then, after an un-expected midnight shift at work, my husband came down with it too, briefly. All in all, it seems we got off super easy, which I attributed to our daily intake of fresh wheatgrass juice, and eating pretty healthy most of the time. I never got anything, but think I might have fought it off one evening with charcoal, oregano oil, elderberry, echinacea, lots of water and bed at 9:00. All that info, to ask, was I wrong? If we were healthier, would I have gotten it too, and would it have been a lot worse? Just curious what you think.

    • Hi Tonya! Personally I don’t think acute illnesses have to be severe to be beneficial. The thing about them is that – unlike chronic infections and complaints – they have a definite beginning and a point at which they are obviously resolved. Some house cleanings are lighter than others and that’s okay! Sometimes my kids get sick and I don’t because my immune system has had a lot more practice, but I know that by allowing them to encounter and overcome the occasional bout of “ick” I am building their immune systems ability to deal with things more efficiently in the future. Does that help?

  19. Hi Heather, You said you only give probiotics sometimes and not every day to your son because you dont want to tamper too much. What did you mean by that? I have a 17-month-old who I give a high quality probiotic supplement to every day. He also eats fermented foods. Should I cut back on the probiotic supplement?

  20. Hi Heather- I recently found your page and have been going through a number of your articles and love them. Regarding the need to get sick once in awhile, it definitely makes sense. I choose not to use any medications like fever reducers or decongestants unless completely necessary. However, I was wondering then your thoughts on some things like herbs and other immune boosters. I have been taking elderberry syrup lately when I am around sick people or feel something coming on. It seems to have helped a lot (reduced the severity of illness and number of days) although it’s hard to be sure. Anyway, do you believe in boosters like this or do you prefer to let our bodies do everything. (So hard to know what is best sometimes!!!) πŸ™‚

    • Hi Kristen, many holistic practitioners suggest the use of immune boosting herbs/foods because they assist the body in doing what it’s designed to do. πŸ™‚