Key Immunology Terms

September 22, 2022

Definition of Terms

(Sourced from the Centers for Disease Control)

Antibody:  A protein found in the blood that is produced in response to foreign substances (e.g. bacteria or viruses) invading the body. Antibodies protect the body from disease by binding to these organisms and destroying them.

Foreign substances (e.g. bacteria or viruses) in the body that are capable of causing disease. The presence of antigens in the body triggers an immune response, usually the production of antibodies. 

Antiviral: Literally “against-virus” — any medicine capable of destroying or weakening a virus.

Community immunity: A situation in which a sufficient proportion of a population is immune to an infectious disease (through vaccination and/or prior illness) to make its spread from person to person unlikely. Even individuals not vaccinated (such as newborns and those with chronic illnesses) are offered some protection because the disease has little opportunity to spread within the community. Also known as herd immunity.

Efficacy rate:  A measure used to describe how good a vaccine is at preventing disease.

Immune system: The complex system in the body responsible for fighting disease. Its primary function is to identify foreign substances in the body (bacteria, viruses, fungi or parasites) and develop a defense against them. This defense is known as the immune response. It involves production of protein molecules called antibodies to eliminate foreign organisms that invade the body.

Immunity: Protection from an infectious disease. If you are immune to a disease, you can be exposed to it without becoming infected.

The process of being made immune or resistant to an infectious disease, typically by the administration of a vaccine. It implies that you have had an immune response.

When the immune system is unable to protect the body from disease. This condition can be caused by disease (like HIV infection or cancer) or by certain drugs (like those used in chemotherapy). Individuals whose immune systems are compromised should not receive live, attenuated vaccines.

A large cell that helps the body defend itself against disease by surrounding and destroying foreign organisms (viruses or bacteria).

Memory Cell: A group of cells that help the body defend itself against disease by remembering prior exposure to specific organisms (e.g. viruses or bacteria). Therefore, these cells are able to respond quickly when these organisms repeatedly threaten the body.

Vaccine: A preparation that is used to stimulate the body’s immune response against diseases. Vaccines are usually administered through needle injections, but some can be administered by mouth or sprayed into the nose.

Vaccination: The act of introducing a vaccine into the body to produce protection from a specific disease.

Virus: A tiny organism that multiplies within cells and causes disease such as chickenpox, measles, mumps, rubella, pertussis and hepatitis. Viruses are not affected by antibiotics, the drugs used to kill bacteria.

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