Dr. Adetokumbo Olotu, Pediatrician at Whittier Street Health Center
The immune system is the body’s defense against infectious organisms and other invaders and is made up of three lines of defense called the immune response. The first line of defense is known as our outer layer which consists of our skin, tears, saliva and mucus that all protect us from invading organisms. Skin is made up of several levels that prevent germs from getting inside us. Our tears and saliva contain enzymes that destroy bacterial cell walls while mucus traps bacteria so that it can be excreted from our bodies.
If an invader gets through the first line of defense, the immune response then activates the second line of defense which works to reject the germs. The pain, swelling and heat that you feel at a site of infection is your body sending cells to fight the disease. Viruses and bacteria can only function at a certain temperature and your body raises its temperature to help destroy the invader. That runny nose, watery eyes, fever, cough, diarrhea, and increased urinary flow are all ways that our body uses to get rid of infection. Next time you have those symptoms, think of it as your body at work to make you better.
The third line of defense involves the body creating a memory cell called an antibody while it is fighting off a disease so that in the event the same invader tries to enter the body again, it will immediately be neutralized. This third line of defense that is the basis of vaccines as they are weakened forms of germs, also known as an antigen is injected into your blood stream so your body recognizes the germ and produces an antibody to it. The main benefit of vaccines is that you do not have to get the disease in order to be immune to it.
While there are many vaccines, I want to stress the importance of three that are not required in order to attend school and are least likely to be given yet are incredibly beneficial to those who receive them.
Most people that I talk to about the flu vaccine decline to get it because they feel that it is not effective. The reality is that the flu virus changes rapidly and every year immunologists look at the strain from the year before to try to develop an effective vaccine. The flu is deadly, but by getting the vaccine your sickness will be less serve and you will recover quicker than without it. I advise to get the flu vaccine as early as possible in September. This way your body will have already developed immunity so that when you are exposed to flu season, you are already prepared. Infants can get the vaccine as early as six months of age and they need to get a second dose a month later. Asthmatics should definitely get the flu shot every year.
The Hepatitis A vaccination can be administered at age 1 and protects against Hepatitis A which can be transmitted through food or drink contaminated by a person carrying the disease. You don’t know who is preparing your food if you eat out so protect yourself by getting vaccinated.
The Human Papillomavirus commonly known as HPV can cause genital warts, cervical, penile, anal and throat cancer. The HPV vaccine was first released in 2006 and since then HPV infections and cervical pre-cancers (abnormal cells on the cervix that can lead to cancer) have dropped significantly. Among teenage girls, infections with HPV that cause most HPV related cancers as well as genital warts have dropped 71%. Among young adult women they have dropped 61% and among all vaccinated women, cervical pre-cancers caused by HPV have dropped by 40%. The HPV vaccine can be offered as early as age 9, though the recommended age is 11-12 years. It was recently approved to be given up until age 45 in certain cases so talk to your clinician for more information to see if you qualify.
Remember, vaccines are offered so that the body can develop antibodies in the case you are exposed to a disease down the line, your body is ready and able to neutralize it.
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Your Health is your Wealth!
Dr. Adetokumbo Olotu, Pediatrician at the Patient Centered and Community Focused Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine Team at Whittier Street Health Center.