One in three people develop shingles in their lifetime. What causes this epidemic? The same virus that causes chickenpox causes shingles, Varicella-zoster virus (VZV)1. VZV is a member of the herpes family - whose other members are responsible for cold sores and genital herpes1. The first infection with VZV causes chickenpox2. Once the active infection is over, the virus becomes latent - it’s still present in your body, but it’s now hiding from your immune system in nerve cells i.e. neurons3. If the virus re-activates, this secondary infection is called shingles3.
We live in a world filled with bacteria, viruses, and other deadly pathogens. In fact, many of them are trying to invade your body right now. If this thought makes you nervous, feel reassured that your body has its own Department of Defense - your immune system. This network works hard round the clock to protect you from harmful invaders. When a pathogen launches an attack, your immune system organizes a beautifully coordinated counter-attack to destroy the pathogen and keep you healthy. Unfortunately, your immune system can make mistakes, including: not destroying diseased or harmful cells (infections and cancer), reacting to non-harmful substances (allergies), or going rogue and attacking your own cells (autoimmune diseases). The immune system is fascinating and complex, and we want to share with you what's going on in the field of immunology.
How do we avoid getting sick in a world full of bacteria, viruses, and other deadly pathogens? We have evolved a subsystem within our immune systemthat functions as our very first line of defense against pathogens. This primary subsystem is called the “behavioral immune system”. This behavioral immune subsystem’s methods of defense against pathogens can be described up in one word….disgust.
Who should get the seasonal flu vaccine? Why is the flu vaccine different each year? How does the flu vaccine protect us? The CDC has estimated that seasonal influenza or the flu is responsible for around 50,000 deaths worldwide each year1. In 1918, the “Spanish flu” pandemic killed over 6,750,00 people in the U.S. and caused over 50 million deaths worldwide2. The more recent 2009 pandemic flu resulted in over 200,00 deaths during its first year of circulation in the human population1.
Why does the immune system sometimes go haywire and cause allergies? Scientists now think that a healthy immune system needs training early in life by unlikely allies: microbes. How can microbes be our friends in the face of allergies, and why are these disorders getting more common recently?
How do we survive infections when some types of bacteria can double their population as quickly as a run of a sitcom episode (twenty minutes) while our adaptive immune system takes a few days to produce antibodies and T cells in our defense? What defenses does our body use in the meantime to keep the infection under control?