The name of the game with the immune system is to 1) recognize the foreign object that has invaded our body; 2) get rid of it; 3) remember it for next time. Remember when we said that our immune systems can get overwhelmed when there are huge numbers of the foreign object present? Our immune cells are preoccupied with hunting them down and dispatching them, so, remembering that they are bad is of utmost importance when they next appear.
The first time you get sick, you’re not sure how to treat it, right? You try chicken soup, hot tea, bed rest, ibuprofen, acetaminophen, vitamin C, cold and cough, cold and sinus, cold and flu, Zinc, fever reducers, cough syrups, Echinacea....until you find the right combo that works, right? Then, the NEXT time you get sick, VOILA! You go straight for the remedies that work and kick that cold’s butt!
So, how does our immune system recognize the flu? On the outside of its capsule, there are two different kinds of spikes called HA and NA. These spikes are how our immune system recognizes that the flu is a foreign invader. Our B-cells, known as memory cells, then file away this spike info. The next time that foreign object invades, it’ll know what specific immune cells to recruit/activate and where to send them. And, in much faster than the first time. AND, it’ll send the fighting cells in droves, to nip that foreign invader before it has a chance to multiply and really challenge our immunity.
The flu is tricky though, because it can vary the combination of spikes to be able to invade numerous species, like pigs, birds, humans, horses and dogs. And also, variations of the flu can infect multiple species.
I know what you’re thinking, now. So why is it that the flu causes us so much trouble every year? If we got it last year, why then, aren’t we protected from it the following year?
The answer lies in the graphic. And we’ll get to it next post....