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Immunity to viruses does not degrade over time

Category: Infectious Diseases

A recent study published in the journal PLoS Pathogens found that the body's T cells, which are responsible for warding off diseases, do not become less effective as people age, which has been a common misconception.

"For a long time, it was thought the elderly were at a higher risk of infections because they lacked these immune cells, but that simply isn't the case," said study investigator Jonathan Bramson, Ph.D. "The elderly are certainly capable of developing immunity to viruses."

During the study, scientists from McMaster University, the University of Toronto and the University of Pennsylvania analyzed subjects of diverse age groups who had contracted three different viruses, one of which was West Nile. The researchers discovered that the T cells' ability to fight diseases and the number of T cells were equal in all age groups.

Bramson reported that the research's findings may affect vaccines that are manufactured for elderly patients. Currently, inoculations for older individuals do not utilize T cell responses, which may explain why present flu vaccines do not provide adequate protection for older patients.

Boosting immunity
Besides vaccines, there are myriad ways that humans can help cultivate more effective immune systems so they can protect themselves from viruses, which, many times, can be detected with a lab test. Harvard Medical School (HMS) notes that people should try to abstain from smoking, exercise frequently, eat diets that are rich with fruits and vegetables as well as low in saturated fats, practice healthy sleeping habits, refrain from excessive drinking and keep healthy weights.

HMS also reports that some vitamins and nutrients have been proven to be effective in warding off certain ailments. For example, vitamin E has been shown to increase the antibody responses to hepatitis B and tetanus after a patient has received a vaccination. Also, vitamin D has been shown to help patients recover from tuberculosis. The source warns against commercial products that claim to bolster immunity.

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