Even before you see a doctor, however, you can be sure that your immune system is on the job, sending in the cellular response team to deal with the problem. How does that happen? What actually occurs when your body starts to “fight” an infection?
Infections are almost everywhere. Bacteria are microscopic organisms too small to see and they live on food, soil, skin, and on most surfaces that have not been recently washed. When you shake hands with someone, bacteria on your skin can be transferred to someone else, but rest assured that person is also trading bacteria with you. Viral infections, such as COVID-19 can spread when you come into contact with someone else and the virus you picked up with your hand then touches your mouth or your eyes or other entry points, such as a cut on your skin.
The Body Senses A Problem
Let’s say you ate something with the wrong kind of bacteria on it – the type that makes you sick. You already have a normal balance of microbes in your digestive system, but imagine a more disruptive agent is attaching you. The body goes immediately into response mode, producing white blood cells that are designed to fight bacteria, fungal or viral infections.
The response is quick. Your immune system recognizes a foreign agent has found entry into your system and moves white blood cells and a variety of other chemicals to repel the attack. As WebMD puts it, “your immune system steps in, like a bouncer who means business.”
White Blood Cells
The foot soldiers who do the front line work repelling an invader are your white blood cells. These are cells that develop in your bone marrow and only live a short while, although your bone marrow is constantly releasing more white blood cells so you have enough on hand. Then, not unlike a military strategy, the white blood cells hang out at various locations so there can be a speedy response to any infection.
Like policemen waiting in the barracks for the phone to ring, white blood cells gather near your thymus, your spleen, your tonsils, adenoids, and your lymph nodes. Even more impressive, your lymphatic system provides your body’s immune system with a fast response to infections. As such, the lymphatic system acts as a kind of express train to the site of the infection, while blood vessels form a slower system, like a local train.
Lymph nodes are located in your neck, your groin, and your armpits. You also have lymph nodes on the backside of your knees. These nodes, while providing a launchpad for white blood cells, also acts as a filter system, trapping germs and destroying them.
Building up an immunity
You’ve probably heard the expression “build up an immunity,” in relation to various infections. This refers to one of the primary methods of fighting an infection, which involves recognizing and taking down various invaders. You’ve probably heard someone say you will only get various illnesses one time. This is because your body has had experience with that infectious agent and has now figured out the code needed to destroy it. During the second invasion from the same germ, your body has already figured out the code, and success repelling the next invasion is quicker.
In this way, nature has supplied us with a continuous supply of white blood cells to repel invasions, but some infections come on strong and overwhelm your immune system. The medical community exists in a large part to figure out ways to boost your immune system so it can win each battle against these invading pathogens.
When you feel sick or suffer an injury in which discomfort rises above your level of tolerance or does not heal in a few days, sickness continues for more than a few days, it is best to call a doctor. San Diego internal medicine doctors at Pacific Medical Care can be reached at 619-333-8114.