Health and Healthcare Systems

How does your immune system work?

A dog wearing a protective mask is seen with its owner inside an autorickshaw during a 21-day nationwide lockdown to limit the spreading of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Chennai, India, March 30, 2020. REUTERS/P. Ravikumar     Coronavirus china virus health healthcare who world health organization disease deaths pandemic epidemic worries concerns Health virus contagious contagion viruses diseases disease lab laboratory doctor health dr nurse medical medicine drugs vaccines vaccinations inoculations technology testing test medicinal biotechnology biotech biology chemistry physics microscope research influenza flu cold common cold bug risk symptomes respiratory china iran italy europe asia america south america north washing hands wash hands coughs sneezes spread spreading precaution precautions health warning covid 19 cov SARS 2019ncov wuhan sarscow wuhanpneumonia  pneumonia outbreak patients unhealthy fatality mortality elderly old elder age serious death deathly deadly

How does the body fight off infections? Image: REUTERS/P. Ravikumar

Phil Cain
Writer, Forum Agenda
Share:
Our Impact
What's the World Economic Forum doing to accelerate action on Health and Healthcare Systems?
The Big Picture
Explore and monitor how COVID-19 is affecting economies, industries and global issues
A hand holding a looking glass by a lake
Crowdsource Innovation
Get involved with our crowdsourced digital platform to deliver impact at scale
Stay up to date:

COVID-19

  • Until a vaccine is available, our immune systems will need to adapt unaided to COVID-19.
  • The immune system is the body’s multi-level defence network against potentially harmful bacteria, viruses and other organisms.
  • A healthy lifestyle helps one's immune system to be in the best shape possible to tackle pathogens, but it’s better to stop them entering the body in the first place.

The coronavirus pandemic has turned the world’s attention to the immune system, the body’s defence force against disease-causing bacteria, viruses and other organisms that we touch, ingest and inhale every day.

Have you read?

But what is the immune system exactly, and how does it help repel intruders?

A force to be reckoned with

Think of it as the body’s personal army working from the cellular to macro level. Each cell, molecule, tissue and organ in this army plays a vital role in warding off invading pathogens, and also helps guard against internal threats like cancer.

The system has two types of response: innate and adaptive.

Discover

What is the World Economic Forum doing about the coronavirus outbreak?

The body’s natural barriers against disease-causing intruders – for example, our skin, the mucous and hairs in our nose, and the acid in our stomachs – are part of our innate immune systems.

Adaptive immunity develops over a lifetime of contact with pathogens and vaccines, preparations which help our immune systems to distinguish friend from foe.

Coronavirus china virus health healthcare who world health organization disease deaths pandemic epidemic worries concerns Health virus contagious contagion viruses diseases disease lab laboratory doctor health dr nurse medical medicine drugs vaccines vaccinations inoculations technology testing test medicinal biotechnology biotech biology chemistry physics microscope research influenza flu cold common cold bug risk symptomes respiratory china iran italy europe asia america south america north washing hands wash hands coughs sneezes spread spreading precaution precautions health warning covid 19 cov SARS 2019ncov wuhan sarscow wuhanpneumonia  pneumonia outbreak patients unhealthy fatality mortality elderly old elder age serious death deathly deadly
Friend or foe? The adaptive immune system decides. Image: Reactome.org

Vaccination safely teaches our adaptive immune systems to repel a wide range of diseases, and thus protect ourselves and others.

There is currently no vaccine for coronavirus, and we may not see one for 18 months or longer. So, for now, our immune systems must adapt unaided to this potentially deadly threat.

How to help your immune system

A healthy lifestyle – not smoking, drinking little or no alcohol, sleeping well, eating a balanced diet, taking regular moderate exercise and reducing stress – helps our immune systems to be in the best shape possible to tackle pathogens.

Loading...

But the first line of defence is to prevent infection from entering the body.

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommended basic protective measures against COVID-19 are frequent handwashing with soap and water, or cleaning hands with an alcohol-based rub; maintaining social distancing; avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth; and covering your nose and mouth with a bent elbow or tissue when you cough or sneeze.

These simple actions are vital to slowing the spread of a new disease like the coronavirus – to which nearly everyone is susceptible, but particularly older people and those with underlying health conditions.

Don't miss any update on this topic

Create a free account and access your personalized content collection with our latest publications and analyses.

Sign up for free

License and Republishing

World Economic Forum articles may be republished in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International Public License, and in accordance with our Terms of Use.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.

Share:
World Economic Forum logo
Global Agenda

The Agenda Weekly

A weekly update of the most important issues driving the global agenda

Subscribe today

You can unsubscribe at any time using the link in our emails. For more details, review our privacy policy.

How clean energy solutions at home and in health facilities can greatly benefit child health

Kitty van der Heijden

June 21, 2024

About Us

Events

Media

Partners & Members

  • Join Us

Language Editions

Privacy Policy & Terms of Service

© 2024 World Economic Forum