The Immune System – Part II

By Sheila Kun RN, BSN, MS, CPN, FCCP

To continue our conversation from our last edition, let us explore the two types of immunity. This is a continuation of our Immunity Lesson 101.

There are two types of immunity that protect us from infection: active and passive system.

Active immunity – for those of us who are parents, you have known this active system for a long time. Remember the time you brought your baby in to the pediatrician’s office to get an immunization or vaccination? That is the beginning of planting the active immune process in your child. Vaccines contain small amounts of dead or modified pathogens or their toxins. A vaccine causes your immune system to make antibodies to the pathogen. This gives you immunity without having to experience the disease. After a few years, your child might receive a booster, or a reminder of your immune system to make antibodies. During the flu season, Influenza vaccines are recommended for everyone who is at increased risk of serious disease.

Edward Jenner, a British physician, is generally credited with discovering immunization in 1796. Jenner demonstrated that exposing a person to the disease cowpox made that person immune to smallpox, a closely related disease.

Immunity that is acquired by receiving antibodies from another immune system is called passive immunity. This type of immunity is temporary, not lifelong. It occurs naturally in babies, who receive antibodies from their mothers before birth. After birth, antibodies also pass to an infant in the mother’s breast milk. These antibodies protect newborns before their own immune systems have developed active immunity.

Passive immunity also can be artificially acquired. For example, suppose you were bitten by a dog with rabies. Antibodies to rabies can be obtained from the blood of horses that have been exposed to the rabies virus. A physician would give you injections of the rabies antibodies to help prevent you from developing the disease.


Your homework assignment from the Care Ministry this week: make a habit to receive flu vaccine every viral winter season.

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