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How does the immune system work?

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Your body makes proteins called antibodies that destroy abnormal or foreign cells. They help fend off common ailments like the flu or a cold, and protect you against major illnesses like cancer or heart disease.

You also have a backup response known as the "cell-mediated immune system." This involves immune system cells rather than antibodies. They help your body create memories of past defenses against certain threats.

When your body sees that invader again, it calls up that memory and sets out to destroy the threat before the disease develops. This is what makes vaccines or immunizations work for illnesses like the flu, measles, chicken pox, or hepatitis. The shot has a small but harmless amount of the disease in it so your immune cells can react, learn, and remember how to protect you from it next time.

SOURCES: Mayo Clinic: "Germs: Understand and protect against bacteria, viruses and infection." Mayo Clinic: "Vaccines when your immune system is compromised." American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology: "Tips to remember: Recurrent, or unusually severe infections."


Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian on January 29, 2017

WAS THIS ANSWER HELPFUL

SOURCES: Mayo Clinic: "Germs: Understand and protect against bacteria, viruses and infection." Mayo Clinic: "Vaccines when your immune system is compromised." American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology: "Tips to remember: Recurrent, or unusually severe infections."


Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian on January 29, 2017

THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for general informational purposes only and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and should not be relied on to make decisions about your health. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the WebMD Site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.

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