How Does Your Immune System Fight the Flu?

immune defense

Unfortunate things happen when you least expect them to. You nick your skin and bacteria finds a way through; you rub your eyes not knowing that the door knob you just touched contained some flu virus, or you simply ate something that had not been cleaned or cooked properly. Well, stuff happens. And just like that, you find yourself fighting an unwanted guest. This is where your immune system kicks in to defend your body. It releases the all-important white blood cells and other accompanying chemicals that destroy the threat, however, this causes a reaction and that is when the sign and symptoms of the infection occur.

The flu is one of the most common ailment in human beings, most adults acquire the flu 2-3 times a year while the children may get up to nine colds a year. But luckily, the white blood cells are well equipped to handle the viruses and get your health back.

Challenging the Immune System

A cold is simply an infection of the upper respiratory system caused by just one of the more than 200 viruses that are responsible for the cold. The flu, on the other hand, is caused by several specific flu viruses. With all those many sources, it becomes difficult to find a remedy for the cold or the flu. Instead, it is up to your immune system to help your body fight back.

Recognizing the Virus

The immune system is always working in the background, monitoring, analyzing and recognizing viruses. Once a virus has been recognized, the immune system takes the appropriate action to eliminate them. This is done by releasing chemicals that force the body to trigger virus-fighting cells- that are then sent to fight the intruder.

Fighting Back

The signs and symptoms of the flu or a cold are due to the white blood cells fighting off the viruses. Once your body detects the infection, it not only releases white blood cells, but also activates other systems such as cytokines, which are chemical messengers, and a number of proteins designed to kill the infections. These proteins and chemicals are responsible for the inflammations and cause other symptoms such as warmth, redness, swelling and even pain.

There are cases where you can have an infection and not actually have any symptoms, this is called a subclinical infection.

Below are some of the common symptoms and what they indicate your immune system is doing.

  • Coughing and Sneezing- these usually happen a few days after the viral infection has occurred and the fluid coming from your nose may change color from clear to yellow. The mucus traps the offending viruses which are promptly removed through sneezing.
  • Runny Nose/ Nasal Congestion- it helps to clear away the germs from the sinuses and the nasal cavity.
  • Fever- Viruses usually operate at an optimum temperature that is not too hot or too cold, therefore, the immune system raises the body temperature to the point where the influenza viruses cannot survive which helps in destroying them.
  • Muscle Aches and Pain- The immune response may leave your muscles’ sore and achy, this is because the immune system is pulling proteins from your muscles and redirecting them to help fight the infection.

There is a number of determining factors which affect the susceptibility of your body to the flu. They include;

  • Whether you have recently caught the flu or have been vaccinated as this creates immunity against the virus
  • The amount of virus you get into contact with
  • How infectious the virus is
  • Your general well-being and how well your immune system is working
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