The Immune System (Your Body: How It Works)


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How your immune system works

This is your child's rapid response system. The innate immune system is inherited and is active from the moment your child is born. When this system recognizes an invader, it goes into action immediately. The cells of this immune system surround and engulf the invader.


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The invader is killed inside the immune system cells. These cells are called phagocytes. The acquired immune system, with help from the innate system, produces cells antibodies to protect your body from a specific invader. These antibodies are developed by cells called B lymphocytes after the body has been exposed to the invader. The antibodies stay in your child's body. It can take several days for antibodies to develop. But after the first exposure, the immune system will recognize the invader and defend against it. The acquired immune system changes throughout your child's life.

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Lymph nodes. Small organs shaped like beans, which are located throughout the body and connect via the lymphatic vessels. Lymphatic vessels. A network of channels throughout the body that carries lymphocytes to the lymphoid organs and bloodstream. Antibiotics can be used to help your child's immune system fight infections by bacteria.

Antibiotics were developed to kill or disable specific bacteria. That means that an antibiotic that works for a skin infection may not work to cure diarrhea caused by bacteria. Using antibiotics for viral infections or using the wrong antibiotic to treat a bacterial infection can help bacteria become resistant to the antibiotic so it won't work as well in the future. Any data you provide will be primarily stored and processed in the United States, pursuant to the laws of the United States, which may provide lesser privacy protections than European Economic Area countries.

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Click here to return to the Medical News Today home page. This vast network of cells and tissues is constantly on the lookout for invaders, and once an enemy is spotted, a complex attack is mounted. The immune system is spread throughout the body and involves many types of cells, organs, proteins, and tissues. Crucially, it can distinguish our tissue from foreign tissue — self from non-self. Dead and faulty cells are also recognized and cleared away by the immune system.

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If the immune system encounters a pathogen, for instance, a bacterium, virus, or parasite, it mounts a so-called immune response. Later, we will explain how this works, but first, we will introduce some of the main characters in the immune system. White blood cells are also called leukocytes. They circulate in the body in blood vessels and the lymphatic vessels that parallel the veins and arteries.

White blood cells are on constant patrol and looking for pathogens. When they find a target, they begin to multiply and send signals out to other cell types to do the same. Our white blood cells are stored in different places in the body, which are referred to as lymphoid organs.

These include the following:. These cells surround and absorb pathogens and break them down, effectively eating them. There are several types, including:. Lymphocytes help the body to remember previous invaders and recognize them if they come back to attack again. Lymphocytes begin their life in bone marrow. Some stay in the marrow and develop into B lymphocytes B cells , others head to the thymus and become T lymphocytes T cells. These two cell types have different roles:.

MODULE 1 – How the immune system works - WHO Vaccine Safety Basics

The immune system needs to be able to tell self from non-self. It does this by detecting proteins that are found on the surface of all cells. It learns to ignore its own or self proteins at an early stage. In many cases, an antigen is a bacterium, fungus, virus, toxin, or foreign body. But it can also be one of our own cells that is faulty or dead. Initially, a range of cell types works together to recognize the antigen as an invader.

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Once B lymphocytes spot the antigen, they begin to secrete antibodies antigen is short for "antibody generators". Antibodies are special proteins that lock on to specific antigens. Each B cell makes one specific antibody. For instance, one might make an antibody against the bacteria that cause pneumonia , and another might recognize the common cold virus.

Antibodies are part of a large family of chemicals called immunoglobulins, which play many roles in the immune response:. Antibodies lock onto the antigen, but they do not kill it, only mark it for death. The killing is the job of other cells, such as phagocytes.

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Helper T cells Th cells — they coordinate the immune response. Some communicate with other cells, and some stimulate B cells to produce more antibodies. Others attract more T cells or cell-eating phagocytes.

Killer T cells cytotoxic T lymphocytes — as the name suggests, these T cells attack other cells. They are particularly useful for fighting viruses. They work by recognizing small parts of the virus on the outside of infected cells and destroy the infected cells.

Everyone's immune system is different but, as a general rule, it becomes stronger during adulthood as, by this time, we have been exposed to more pathogens and developed more immunity. Once an antibody has been produced, a copy remains in the body so that if the same antigen appears again, it can be dealt with more quickly.

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Diagram of the Human Immune System (Infographic)

That is why with some diseases, such as chickenpox , you only get it once as the body has a chickenpox antibody stored, ready and waiting to destroy it next time it arrives. This is called immunity. We are all born with some level of immunity to invaders. Human immune systems, similarly to those of many animals, will attack foreign invaders from day one. This innate immunity includes the external barriers of our body — the first line of defense against pathogens — such as the skin and mucous membranes of the throat and gut.


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This response is more general and non-specific. If the pathogen manages to dodge the innate immune system, adaptive or acquired immunity kicks in.

The Immune System (Your Body: How It Works) The Immune System (Your Body: How It Works)
The Immune System (Your Body: How It Works) The Immune System (Your Body: How It Works)
The Immune System (Your Body: How It Works) The Immune System (Your Body: How It Works)
The Immune System (Your Body: How It Works) The Immune System (Your Body: How It Works)
The Immune System (Your Body: How It Works) The Immune System (Your Body: How It Works)
The Immune System (Your Body: How It Works) The Immune System (Your Body: How It Works)

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