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3 Surprising Ways In Which Your Body Fights Infection

Updated on June 13, 2012


Our bodies have to fight infection all of the time, if they couldn't we would soon be infested with pathogens (disease causing organisms) and our organs would begin to fail us!

Since there are billions of different pathogens with different abilities, it is very reasonable to assume that we have a lot of abilities and fight off disease in a number of different ways.

Fortunately, the human body is very well equipped and most of the time we don't even feel the symptoms of an infection!

1. The Brain

The 'underdog'

The human brain is a feat of evolution so underestimated that it would not even be considered by some as the main reason for why humans have survived. The structure of the human brain is such that we are curious and seek answers, this includes the science of pathology.

Thanks to the human brain, we have managed to create vaccines, medicines, and established widespread dietary and hygiene precautions (think hospitals, balanced diets, exercise programs etc.) and quite importantly: free information on how to prevent diseases from spreading and taking effect.

In many countries, previously deadly diseases such as malaria in Europe and the USA have been eradicated completely; and let's not forget the global eradication of Smallpox through the use of widespread vaccination! Thanks brain!

Inflammation caused by a splinter explained

A brief and simple explanation of what happens when we get a splinter.
A brief and simple explanation of what happens when we get a splinter.

2. Inflammation

  1. After a graze or cut, our bodies are vulnerable to becoming infected at that site. The body's first line of defence against getting infected is to quickly form a blood clot at the site of damage. Most of the time however, there is enough time for some sort of infection to sneak its way into our system.
  2. The white blood and mast cells which were physically damaged at the site release many chemicals such as histamine.
  3. Histamine causes our arterioles in the area to dilate increasing the amount of blood going to the area of infection (the purpose of inflammation). Histamine also makes capillaries more permeable.Cells in the capillary separate slightly and this results in the leakage of plasma fluid, white blood cells and antibodies from our blood into our tissues which causes swelling.
  4. Since more white blood cells are now at the site of the infection, the infection can be fought off faster and safer than without inflammation.
  5. Also, due to the increased blood flow in the damaged area, the area becomes warmer to the point that the high temperature will denature (kill by changing their molecular structure) pathogens, preventing them from doing any more damage to our bodies.

A phagocyte using phagocytosis to get rid of a pathogen

A diagram of phagocytosis in action.
A diagram of phagocytosis in action.

3. Phagocytes

Phagocytes basically "eat" pathogens. This "eating" is named phagocytosis.
Phagocytosis is the process of a cell ingesting foreign matter (in this case pathogen – disease causing microorganism). Cells that perform this role are called “phagocytes”. There are two main types of phagocytes:

Make up 70% of the white blood cells in our bodies
80 million of these are produced per minute
They last for only a few days
At the site of infection they engulf between 5 and 20 bacteria before they die.

Make up 4% of our white blood cells.
Circulate in the blood for 1-2 days before becoming macrophages where they engulf bacteria.
Macrophages live longer and have the potential to destroy as many as 100 bacteria.
Lysosomes within the phagocytic cells contain digestive enzymes and these are used to destroy the bacteria that are engulfed by them.
Through the ingestion of the pathogen, the infection is got rid of.


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    • Philanthropy2012 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from London

      Hmm, you would think soldiers would have preferred alcohol to water anyway! Maybe they were more beer fans :L

      I know that if there was excrement in a river I would at least search for a further one or find an alternative!

      How did you find out about this story by the way? I'm always very interested in knowing where people get interesting facts from :o!

    • Borsia profile image


      7 years ago from Currently, Philippines

      One of them knew that it was unsafe to drink the local water, which came from a lake where the tribe also bathed and discarded wastes.

      He tried to convince everyone to steer clear of the water but only one fellow crew member listened.

      The other crew members fell ill at more or less the same time, within days, but by then it was too late for any of them to do anything.

      Throughout Europe most people drank wine in place of water for the same reason so I have no idea why the crew didn't pay heed to the warnings.

    • Philanthropy2012 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from London

      Thanks B! :)

      That IS an interesting factoid!

      I have also always thought that some people can be over-cleanly, and the amazing tolerance of natives to their environment exemplifies this. What is important however is that we have the medicine to treat the diseases before septic-shock occurs as sometimes the body has used up it's resources/nutrition on other things (intense mental/physical exercise for example) and isn't able to fight off disease when otherwise it would have.

      For the sake of sharing, another fact is that humans encounter the salmonella virus almost every day but handle it without symptoms. It is only the susceptible like the already ill or tired, children and elderly that tend to get it.

      As for the Spanish crew, did the two men realise that it would be safer to drink the wine only or was it just a bad case of alcoholism that saved the day?

    • Borsia profile image


      7 years ago from Currently, Philippines

      Good Hub PH.

      Here is an interesting factoid; the majority of the living cells in the human body are not human. Roughly 60% are foreign life and if you count such things as water etc only around 10-20% are actually us.

      People can be too clean. Being exposed to pathogens, bacteria and other toxins in small amounts builds Resistance to those things. This is why local people can consume water and other foods without ill effects, while strangers to the area get ill.

      When the Spanish landed in California near what is now Oceanside they found a flourishing Indian community and after their ship was damaged tried to live with them.

      2 of the crew decided only to drink wine. They were the only 2 who survived, eventually walking out via Mexico, the rest of the crew died within a short time due to toxic water.

    • Philanthropy2012 profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from London

      Exactly! Thank you very much, such a pleasant person :)x

    • Sneha Sunny profile image

      Sneha Sunny 

      7 years ago from India

      It was a nice read... Thanks for sharing this useful information!! :) Human body is much more advanced than we can imagine especially the brain.


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