Health Watch - Infection: Stress and Infection

Health Watch is a Public Service of the Office of News and Publications and is intended to provide general information only and should not replace the advice of a medical professional. You should contact your physician if you have questions about any of these topics.

When we become ill, it’s often because of invading organisms — viruses and bacteria that enter our bodies and do harm. This week on Health Watch, we’ll talk about infections, how they work and how they can be treated. You may have noticed that you’re more prone to illness when you’re under a lot of stress. Stress weakens your body’s defenses, but it may also give the invaders a boost.

Researchers at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas have found that receptors on E. coli bacteria sense stress hormones in the body and react by releasing toxins that cause illness. If bacteria don’t receive the right chemical signals, they pass harmlessly through the body. Dr. Vanessa Sperandio, a UT Southwestern microbiologist, says it’s like a double-edged sword — your defenses are weaker when you’re stressed, and your stress hormones activate the pathogens. Scientists are studying this process to see if there’s a way to use it to prevent infections. 

Visit to learn more about UT Southwestern’s clinical services in infectious diseases.


March 2009

Health Watch is heard Monday through Friday nationwide on ABC Satellite Radio. Call your local radio station and ask if they carry the program.