What is natural immunity?
Your immune system is a complex, interconnected network of reactions, signals, and classes of immune cells dedicated to keeping you healthy. There are actually several types of immunity; one of the most-talked about post-pandemic is the concept of natural immunity—the degree to which your body can position itself against a natural infection.
What is “natural immunity”? How does it differ from passive immunity? What can you do to help set your immune system up for success against SARS-CoV-2?
Definition of “natural immunity”
Natural immunity is immunity that exists naturally in the individual, as a result of a naturally-contracted infection. In contrast to vaccine-induced immunity, active, natural immunity is not acquired by way of a triggered reaction in response to a vaccination against one disease or another.
Immunity, on its own, describes the body’s ability to protect itself from any type of infectious disease, including COVID-19. Passive immunity may be conferred through the use of antibody treatment—the headline-grabbing monoclonal antibodies that made waves during the majority of the COVID pandemic.
The idea behind them: to give uninfected individuals an immunological advantage without exposing them to the actual coronavirus. This immunological experience prepares the immune system for a real encounter later on, allowing the body to arm itself against illness quickly and effectively.
How does COVID natural immunity work?
An immune response, in a general sense, is your body’s entire line of defense against invading pathogens, microorganisms that may cause harm to your body. It does so by identifying pathogens, matching them to specific, biologically recognizable antigens, which are characteristic protein structures on the surface of the disease.
Any living organism—fungi, bacteria, and viruses included—bear their own trademark antigen profile. Other, inanimate intrusions—a shard of glass, for example, or a toxic chemical—may also be recognized as antigens, as well. These antigens allow your immune cells to target anything that needs to be eliminated, preserving the health of the body and preventing harmful substances from damaging tissue, organs, or any other structure.
One of the most prominent outer structures found on SARS-CoV-2 post-Omicron: the coronavirus spike protein, “S”, which your antiviral antibodies are able to target readily. Your body produces COVID-specific antibodies in response to this easily-distinguished structure, and they’re a huge part of your body’s natural immune response.
The two subunits that the “S” spike protein is composed of, S1 and S2, are used to bind to new, uninfected host cells. Your antibodies can disable the entire structure, preventing viral invasion on a cell-by-cell basis.
After seeing the virus and recovering, your body retains an immunological memory of the event. Now, antibodies produced to reckon with SARS-CoV-2 in particular simply exist in your system, ready to tackle newly-detected coronavirus pathogens as they make their presence known.
Innate immunity and adaptive immunity
Immunity as a whole can be divided into two categories: innate, general immunity, which describes a person’s true natural immunity when it comes to all pathogens and illnesses, and adaptive, specialized immunity—the latter being the side that “natural immunity” as we recognize it post-COVID falls into.
The innate immune system is less a matter of the alchemy in your blood and more a matter of how the human body naturally keeps itself clean, pure, and free of intruders. In a broad sense, this definition includes the skin organ itself as your actual first line of defense.
Along with your skin, every solid membrane containing your body can also be considered a life-saving wall of protection. The innate immune system is considered “nonspecific,” which means it defends against all outsiders at all times whenever possible. It acts as an alert system, informing your adaptive resources when there’s a problem, but it’s limited in its ability to prevent the spread of a disease throughout the body.
The adaptive immune response is prompted and coordinated to some extent by the innate immune system. The adaptive resources at your body’s disposal are only activated when the innate immune system is unable to contain the issue.
The following protective immune cells combat disease head-on, attaching individual pathogens and viral units after antigen detection:
- T lymphocytes
- B lymphocytes
- Antibodies, which act and travel through your blood vessels
The antibodies in question are the same antibodies mentioned briefly above—while they’re far from the only antiviral soldiers at play after a COVID-19 infection, they are one of the most important and the most ruthless.
How to improve your immune response against COVID-19
When all is said and done, what’s the best way to maintain a healthy immune system ready to combat COVID infection?
According to the CDC, the following lifestyle choice can all boost immune response against any illness, including SARS-CoV-2:
- Eating healthy, whole foods
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Sleeping well
- Avoiding habits like smoking and drinking excessively
Vitamin C, daily activity, and drinking plenty of water are all the best ways to improve your immune system. Of course, one other great piece of advice is to test often, when feeling symptomatic or after a possible exposure. If you do become infected with COVID-19, it’s important to get treatment – Covid Clinic can help with this!