Understanding the Immune System
August 4, 2015
Table of Contents
The immune system is made up of cells and organs that protect your body from outside invaders such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites (types of germs) that can cause infection and disease. The immune system also gets rid of abnormal pre-cancerous cells and cancerous cells that are growing out of control. When it works correctly, it fights off infection and keeps you healthy. However, when it does not work correctly, germs and other abnormal cells in the body can more easily cause disease.
The first line of defense against germs is your skin, the single largest organ of the body. It provides a physical barrier that keeps bacteria and viruses from entering the body. Viruses such as HIV cannot get through normal, healthy, unbroken skin. HIV can, however, get into the body through unbroken mucous membranes, which are the moist membranes of the vagina (birth canal), rectum, and urethra ('pee hole').
Germs that get inside the body are taken care of by the internal parts of the immune system. The white blood cells that defend the body from invaders and get rid of possibly dangerous abnormal cells begin their lives in the bone marrow. Once they leave the bone marrow, they travel to the lymph organs, which serve as a home base for mature white blood cells. There, the white blood cells await instruction to go out and fight infection.
Lymph organs are spread throughout the body and include the lymph nodes, thymus, spleen, appendix, tonsils and adenoids, and clumps of tissue in the small intestine known as Peyer's patches. Lymph nodes are located in the neck, armpits, abdomen, and groin. Each lymph node contains cells ready to fight invaders. The lymphatic vessels connect the lymph nodes and carry lymph, which is a clear fluid that "bathes" the body's tissues and helps to clean out invaders or germs.
The spleen is an important organ for a healthy immune system. It is about the size of a fist, and it is located at the upper left of the abdomen. One of its key roles is to filter blood and to identify and get rid of worn-out white blood cells.
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