Infectious disease primary prevention

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Editor-In-Chief: C. Michael Gibson, M.S., M.D. [2]; Associate Editor-In-Chief: Cafer Zorkun, M.D., Ph.D. [3]

Primary Prevention

Immunity

Mary Mallon (a.k.a. Typhoid Mary) was an asymptomatic carrier of typhoid fever. Over the course of her career as a cook, she infected 53 people, three of whom died.

Infection with most pathogens does not result in death of the host and the offending organism is ultimately cleared after the symptoms of the disease have waned. This process requires immune mechanisms to kill or inactivate the inoculum of the pathogen. Specific acquired immunity against infectious diseases may be mediated by antibodies and/or T lymphocytes. Immunity mediated by these two factors may be manifested by:

  • a direct effect upon a pathogen, such as antibody-initiated complement-dependent bacteriolysis, opsonoization, phagocytosis and killing, as occurs for some bacteria,
  • neutralization of viruses so that these organisms cannot enter cells,
  • or by T lymphocytes which will kill a cell parasitized by a microorganism.

The immune system response to a microorganism often causes symptoms such as a high fever and inflammation, and has the potential to be more devastating than direct damage caused by a microbe.

Resistance to infection (immunity) may be acquired following a disease, by asymptomatic carriage of the pathogen, by harboring an organism with a similar structure (crossreacting), or by vaccination. Knowledge of the protective antigens and specific acquired host immune factors is more complete for primary pathogens than for opportunistic pathogens.

Immune resistance to an infectious disease requires a critical level of either antigen-specific antibodies and/or T cells when the host encounters the pathogen. Some individuals develop natural serum antibodies to the surface polysaccharides of some agents although they have had little or no contact with the agent, these natural antibodies confer specific protection to adults and are passively transmitted to newborns.

Other Methods of Prevention

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