Written By Dr Steven Gunn (MBChB. BSc. CVIT)
Immunity is the ability of the body to prevent or ward off a future infection, by a bacterium or virus, because the body has formed antibodies against them after the first time that they infected the body. Antibodies can also be formed against foreign proteins. Immunity may be short lasting (months to years) or long lasting (many years to lifelong).
There are 3 types of immunity:
- Innate Immunity – Immunity we are born with to protect us against certain pathogens
- Acquired (Adaptive) Immunity – This is the immunity we acquire throughout our life from exposure to pathogens, microbial infections and vaccinations
- Passive Immunity – This is immunity which is passed on from mother to baby during pregnancy and protects the baby and child from certain pathogens for the first few months to years of life
Vaccinations consist of antigens or weakened (attenuated) pathogens e.g. viruses and bacteria which are injected into the body and cause the immune system to form antibodies against them. The antibodies then offer protection against future infections, e.g. measles, hepatitis A&B and meningitis causing bacteria. There is a new group of vaccines called RNA vaccines which have been developed to combat the Covid 19 virus.
IMMUNE SYSTEM DISORDERS
There are 3 main types of immune system disorders:
- Immuno-deficiencies: Caused by a weak or deficiency in certain cells of the immune system. Can be inherited, or acquired from nutritional deficiencies or infections, e.g. HIV/AIDS or medical disorders, e.g. diabetes and alcoholism and old age
- Auto-immunity: Caused by the immune system mistakenly attacking its own healthy cells or protein, instead of attacking the pathogens or foreign proteins. It can also be caused by the immune system not switching off after killing viruses and bacteria during infections, or attacking allergens in our diet. Examples are Lupus, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Coeliac Disease, IBD, MS, Diabetes type 1, Hashimotos Disease, Graves Disease and Scleroderma
- Hypersensitivity/Allergy: Caused by the immune system responding excessively to certain chemical and protein like substances (allergens), as well as parasites, moulds, animal and plant substances. The reaction (allergy) can be mild or severe (anaphylactic shock)
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