Whenever someone feels ill, people will start talking about their immune system. But what exactly is natural immunity, and how does it work to protect us?
Your body’s immune system is the inbuilt, complex network of cells and organs which help protect you from infection. If a virus, bacteria, or parasite invades your body, your immune system fights back to protect you and get you back to full health.
The clever thing about immunity is that it learns and adapts. The first time you are exposed to a specific infection, your body’s immune cells learn exactly how to see the infection off. The body will always remember this first episode and will store the memory for the rest of your life. If you ever come into contact with that same infection in future, your body will know what to do (even if it’s decades later). This is what we mean by being immune to an infection.
How does immunity work?
When your body is exposed to a bacteria, virus, or parasite, it views it as a foreign invader. A complex series of responses start to occur, aimed at fighting off the threat and helping you recover.
Your body has two sets of defensive mechanisms, one called ‘innate immunity’ and another called ‘adaptive immunity’.
Some of your body’s immunity is inbuilt - we call this innate immunity. This is found in various cells and organs of the body, including your skin, stomach acid, tears, saliva, and mucus. Together, they form the first line of defence against infection.
Then there is adaptive immunity. This is an even more complicated series of responses which can change throughout your life as your body adapts to infections. In fact, this adaptive process is the very basis of how we become immune. Antibodies and specialist blood cells attack and destroy infections. They will also recognise the same infection in future.
The immune system is more complex and clever than we imagine!
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