— by Cate Stevenson, BA
When you come down with an illness, two things usually happen. First, you feel sick. You might find yourself with symptoms such as fever, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, rash, and muscular aches and pains. The second thing that happens — and this is especially so when it comes to infectious diseases — is that the disease-causing organism causes an immune response. As this response increases in strength over the course of the illness, the infectious agents are slowly reduced in number until symptoms disappear and recovery is complete.
Your immune system fights disease by releasing proteins that bind to disease-causing organisms and subsequently destroy them. In addition, something very cool happens: “memory cells” are produced. Memory cells remain in your bloodstream, ready to mount a quick assault against subsequent infections. If such an infection were to occur, the memory cells would respond so quickly that the resulting immune response could inactivate the disease-causing agents, and symptoms would be prevented. This response is often so quick that infection doesn’t develop — in other words, you are immune from infection!
This is the principal on which vaccines were developed. Vaccines work to convince your body that the vaccination is an attack by the offending viruses or bacteria, and stimulate them into action to develop the memory cells for an antibody in the event of future invasion.
Vaccines have been a great advance in preventative medicine. They have stopped a number of diseases from raging out of control. On the other hand, vaccines can be made with toxins and other chemicals that can trigger side effects in certain people. Now, a research team based at the John Hopkins Institute in Baltimore suggests that gender can trigger different immune responses and different side effects to particular vaccines.
Researchers reviewed a host of prior studies involving the use of vaccines. These vaccines were used to treat a range of diseases including yellow fever, influenza, measles, mumps and rubella, hepatitis, and herpes simplex. The research team found that gender can affect the frequency and severity of adverse effects of vaccination, including fever, pain and inflammation. The research team noted that, when it came to vaccination, women typically showed stronger immune responses to vaccinations compared to men. The researchers would like to see improvement in the way major vaccine initiatives (such as the recent campaign to distribute the H1N1 flu vaccine) are launched.
If you are considering immunization for an infectious disease, here are some points to consider:
—What is your risk or probability of getting the disease?
—What are the health consequences of the disease if contracted?
—How safe is the vaccine that is available?
—Is the immunity provided by the vaccine long-lasting?
—What is your health history and present health status?
—Are there alternatives to immunization and, if so, are they safe and effective?
Talk to your healthcare provider and weigh the pros and cons of vaccination for your own individual case.