When I was very young, I had my first introduction to Natural Adaptive/Acquired Immunity, though it was certainly not called that - instead, it was called The Chicken Pox.
You see, back in the dark ages when I was young (the 1970s), we used to *GET* the chicken pox - an actual infection, and this was not only accepted, it was expected - and then once you had had it, you were done and you knew you weren’t going to get it again. It was a rite of passage. I’m sure a lot of us Gen Xers remember this! (Side note: Yes, the chickenpox virus is indeed the agent responsible for shingles that may appear later in life - but that’s actually not a NEW infection, that’s resurgence and reactivation of your *original* infection, that had lodged itself in a very quiet hiding place in your body, different biological process, but anyways...) The bottom line is that your body will not (should not) get an *original* infection twice, whether it’s chicken pox, or measles, or another virus, because once you’ve had it, your body forms Natural Acquired Active Immunity - which is supposed to last a long time, sometimes for the rest of your life. That’s how your immune system “works,” always has, and hopefully always will. This is also how vaccination is intended to work, though as we know that’s not a current possible. So: I’m writing this piece to remind you, or perhaps in some cases to share with you in the first place, that vaccination is not required for Natural Acquired Immunity to work - your body absolutely knows how to create immune memory and protection by itself. Which is useful information currently, right??
Natural Acquired Immunity is the result of a healthy immune system being exposed to a “bug” and forming “immune memory,” so that if your body sees that exact particular pathogen again, it “remembers” how to eliminate it quickly and effectively, to best defend the turf that is your human body. For example, once you had “had” the chicken pox virus, your immune system formed a “memory” of its nasty little countenance, and though you were certainly exposed to the chicken pox virus again through the course of the years, your immune system used its “memory” to prevent re-infection: it recognized EXACTLY what that specific virus was and knew EXACTLY how to squash it, for lack of better words, like a bug. This same Immune Memory process happens for most every virus, bacteria, or infectious agent you encounter, and this process has happened in your body starting from when you were a baby. Your body actually has Natural Immunity to a TON of things, and you never consciously knew, which is probably a good thing! You can think of Natural Immunity as the library of knowledge your immune system has gained. (“Oh, yeah, I’ve seen THAT before, that memory is in my library, so I know what to do with it!”) And the more bugs you’re exposed to and “learn” about, the bigger and stronger your library gets!
How does Natural Immunity work, and how do we acquire it? Well, it turns out that your body’s immune system is friggin’ amazing, like its own little symphony behind the curtain - Don’t get me started because i LOVE immunology.... my intention here is to share a little snippet of it that may empower you to feel a bit better about this COVID-19 debacle.
So..... Let’s play WAR.
Let’s say you’re exposed to a virus or bacteria, a pathogen that does not belong in your body. We’ll just call it The Invader, and it has breached your space, your territory, your body. Thankfully, you’ve actually got a kind of military within your body (the many cells and tissues of your immune system) that’s watching for Invaders all the time, through multiple methods of surveillance. So, when The Invader breaches your first line of defense, your immune military spies it and lobs a small bomb at it. Sometimes just that bomb is enough and takes out The Invader - but sometimes it’s not enough, particularly if The Invader is strong and quick and can efficiently replicate itself into Minion Clones, which are identical copies of the original Invader by way of viral replication. (COVID-19 does this.). All of a sudden, seeing the appearance of Minion Clones, your immune military says, uh, Houston, we’ve got a problem here, we need more than just that one little bomb..... and as a response, the immune system starts to activate its war machinery, to develop a bigger strategy to neutralize and contain The Invader, opening its weapons storage warehouses and starting to look for the right instrument for the task at hand. Because, the right tool for the right job.... Your immune system will pull out a variety of weapons to try to neutralize the enemy, bombs and artillery of several kinds, and one of these important weapons is The Antibody.
The Antibody is a like a GPS tagged dart that is lobbed out in search of its target, The Invader. Your body will make a “uuuuge” library of different and unique antibodies to try out in response to The Invader, think of it like dumping a 1000-piece puzzle on the kitchen table, but each unique puzzle piece has a GPS tag, only a few of which will “fit.” Your immune system will keep lobbing these GPS-tagged puzzle pieces at The Invader until one fits well enough, and successfully attaches itself, thus activating the GPS tag (*bing!!*). When the GPS tag is activated, it serves as a beacon and homing device so the immune system Special Forces know *exactly* where to go to neutralize their tagged target. Pretty good racket, huh?
Let’s name those puzzle pieces “IgM” antibodies. IgM antibodies are the “first round” of puzzle pieces sent out to find The Invader - in the case of COVID-19, let’s say that within this library, we’re looking for the complementary three dimensional puzzle piece fits the Notorious Spike Protein we’ve seen in tons of pictures. Once your body’s immune military figures out the IgM puzzle piece antibody that fits, your immune system will “select” it (*winner!*) and send that particular IgM to the factories to make more of the same - and therefore “tag” more Invaders, the ones that have replicated like Minion Clones, so that Special Forces can take them out. That’s adaptive immunity - your body figuring out what works, by trial and error, and finding the right tool to clean up the mess to restore order.
So having honed which IgM-GPS “artillery” works well against The Invader, let’s say your Immune Military wins the battle and kills all Invader Clones, restores peace and harmony to your body. WHEW!!! Well here’s the thing.... IgM is good, and it worked, but there’s actually a step better (insert engineer joke here): The Sniper, a next-generation refinement and evolution of IgM, that’s an absolutely perfect puzzle piece fit, like a magnet to metal. The Sniper’s name is “IgG,” and The Sniper becomes the longlasting Sentinel, Sniper, and Assassin that will be stored in your body’s immune memory library. When you have this specific and tailored IgG weapon (and the Sentinel Assassin cells that make and deploy it), your body has SPECIFIC IMMUNE MEMORY.... it has a way to recognize The Invader, should it try to show its ugly face again, and take it out very effectively and efficiently, before it has an opportunity to gain a foothold or cause any ruckus. Bam.
Here’s the empowering part: YOUR BODY ABSOLUTELY KNOWS HOW TO DO THIS (*unless you’re the bubble boy... gratuitous genx reference). Your body has been creating specific immune memory, quietly, behind the scenes, since you were born - kind of like our military is always training, always ready, quietly in the background. Or, in both cases, you’d better *hope* so...
SOOOOOOOO.... How is all of this helpful, in a practical sense, given the charley foxtrot that is current events?
Well: Because testing, and data, can drive decisions. And a different kind of testing is starting to become available.
You will soon be able to have a test to MEASURE for IgM in your body that recognizes COVID’s unique proteins, like the spike protein. If your body produces this specific IgM, you have already (recently) had the bug. (And according to data from other countries, many people do get the bug without symptoms - so yes, it’s possible you had it and never knew it.)
You will soon also be able to have a test to MEASURE for IgG (Sniper Sentinel Assassins), the evolved immune system weapons that specifically recognize COVID-19’s proteins. If your body produces this, it is presumptive evidence of ACQUIRED NATURAL IMMUNITY.
IF you have IgG the recognizes COVID-19, the logical assumption is that you already HAD IT, your body FOUND the right puzzle pieces to fight it, you are IMMUNE, and that you CANNOT GET IT AGAIN OR GIVE IT TO ANOTHER PERSON. (That specific tenet remains to be proven conclusively for this bug specifically - only time will tell. However, in the history of immunology, this is how it has always worked, and how we predict and hope it will work in this case)
AND, to take that a step further: The way the immune system keeps its Sentinel Assassins at-the-ready is by re-exposure, by boosters. It’s not just OK to “see” The Invader again, once you’re protected by immune memory, it’s biologically necessary. In order to keep muscles strong, you need to exercise... in order to keep immune memory strong, it needs to be kept awake. Once you are immune, COVID-19 is not something to be feared - it is something to be kept in check, deliberately, by the fortitude of your hard-earned natural acquired immunity and by virtue of keeping that memory strong.
And to take that the next step: If you are IMMUNE, you are safe to go about your life. Hug your friends. Go back to work. Enjoy dinner at a restaurant. Take the T, get on a plane. LIVE.
Is this coming? YES. This testing has been rolled out in other countries, and it’s starting to become available here. (Trust me, I’m on it like superglue.)
We can’t hide forever, and really, once we KNOW that our immune systems are taking care of us, we’re going to have to take that leap and get back out there, like someone diving back into the dating pool after they’ve healed from an impactful breakup. Scary, yes.... but in the long run, it’s a necessary step to rebuild what has so quickly and traumatically been destroyed in our world in this short month. THEN, we have to return to the habits that promoted health and strength - because future challenge will come, in different flavors, since it’s just part of life. Remember that your ability to adapt to challenge can be far more important than that challenge (Someone said that once, I forget who) and your ability to adapt is a function of the ways you strengthen and empower your body every day.
And guess who’s the guinea pig for this IgG testing, followed by re-introduction to LIFE? Yep. Me.