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The Carletonian

SWArticle: How does the immune system work?

< many bugs running around campus, you might wonder how your immune system in general combats illness. Here is a basic explanation of the immune system and how it functions.

The immune system’s job is to protect the body against pathogens, among other things. It does this by first creating a barrier to prevent “bad” cells from entering. If some germs do get through the immune system tries to distinguishing the foreign, “bad”, cells from the body’s normal, healthy cells. Finally, if the germs are also to reproduce (which is what causes side effects of illness like a sore throat, depending on the virus), the immune system tried to eliminate the cells.

Viral and bacterial infection are the most common kind of illness associated with failure of the immune system, they are responsible for colds, influenza, etc.

In order to understand what our immune system is trying to deal with, it is important to understand what a virus is. A virus is not a live cell, it has its own DNA, but it tried to us the DNA of our normal, healthy cells, to reproduce more viral cells.

The immune system is made up of many organs of the body. Some organs that act as or have barriers (the first line of defense against germs) are the skin, nose, mouth, and eyes. Skin acts as the primary boundary and tries to defend the body by keeping “bad” cells out. It secretes antibacterial substances, which keeps bad cells from developing cultures on it.

Similarly, saliva is antibacterial, the nose and lungs are coated in mucus that can trap and hold germs before they enter the body. These all act as germ barriers.

Once inside the body there are many parts that helps combat germs including the spleen, bone marrow, white blood cells, lymph nodes, the thymus, and antibodies.

Here is one example of how one part of the body fights an invading cell: Antibodies are proteins found in the blood stream which are responsible for responding to bacteria, viruses, or toxins, each antibody is responsive to a particular germ. Antibodies bind to the invading cell disabling it and often preventing it from moving through other cell walls, which is important for protecting normal cells. Antibodies are also a signaling device, in a sense, they label the germ cells for removal by other organs.

Vaccines are one way we try to aid our immune systems. Vaccines are a weaker form of the disease, either viral or bacterial. Catching a weaker form allows the body to recognize that disease from then on and protect against it. Unfortunately, vaccines are impractical for viruses like the flu, which have many strains.

Illnesses that cannot be vaccinated against, like the common cold or the flu, must be fought off the old fashion way- with the immune system. To help your immune system out, get plenty of fluids, Vitamin C, and rest.

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