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General information about the immune system

The immune system is a complex network of cells and proteins that defends the body against infection. Specialist clinical immunology/allergy physicians identify and treat  disorders that result from abnormalities of the immune system.

Underactivity of the immune system, also called immunodeficiency, can be inherited, acquired as a result of medical treatment or caused by another disease. Immunodeficiency predisposes people to infections.

Overactivity of the immune system can take many forms, including allergic diseases, where the immune system makes an excessive response to proteins in substances (known as allergens) and autoimmune diseases, where the immune system mounts a response against normal components of the body.

Research into the immune system has been active during the last forty years.  Australia and New Zealand have strong track records in these areas. This makes immunology and allergy a dynamic and constantly changing field of medicine.

Specialist clinical immunology/allergy physicians translate this knowledge into clinical practice, by assessing and treating a range of common and rare diseases that involve the immune system, including:

  • Allergic diseases are extremely common.  These include food, drug or stinging insect allergy, anaphylaxis (life-threatening allergy), hay fever (allergic rhinitis), sinus disease, asthma, hives (urticaria), dermatitis and eczema.
  • Autoimmune diseases range from common to rare.  They can be confined to one part of the body (such as multiple sclerosis, autoimmune thyroid disease, type 1 diabetes)  or they can affect many different parts of the body (such as systemic lupus erythematosus, rheumatoid arthritis, systemic vasculitis).
  • Immunodeficiencies are conditions in which the immune system does not function correctly, leading to increased infections. These may be inherited (such as X-linked Agammaglobulinaemia, X-linked Severe Combined Immunodeficinecy, Complement deficiencies, Phagocyte cell deficiencies) or acquired later in life (such as HIV/AIDS).
  • Immunosuppression treatment is most often required for people who are recipients of organ transplants or cancer chemotherapy.

Content last updated February 2013

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