Infection & Autoimmune
“There are intimate links between infectious agents (viruses, bacteria, etc) and autoimmunity.” Drs. Isenberg and Morrow
A similar perspective on infection is offered by Dr. Lauren Sompayrac, “For years physicians have noticed that autoimmune diseases frequently follow bacterial or viral infections, and immunologists believe that microbial attack may be one of the key environmental factors that trigger autoimmune disease.” Dr.Lauren Sompayrac, How the Immune System Works
The immune system is constantly being challenged by infection. Events can arise from infections if the immune system does not eliminate the invading organism quickly and efficiently.
Most researchers believe infection to be a trigger but also believe other conditions must be present. This is obvious since everyone who gets an infection does not get an autoimmune disease.
Another favored theory is that B cell and T cell receptors in the immune system recognize things that are similar as opposed to things identical. If a receptor is activated in the normal way by an invader, and “self” immune stimulators are present (in the same locality) at the same time, the immune system may react to both.
Another way of putting it is that some microorganisms trick the immune system into attacking “self” because of a superficial resemblance. Since the immune system has layers of tolerance or “self” protection, other break-downs in these systems are also required.
“Immunologists believe that the majority of autoimmune diseases result when the layers of tolerance inducing mechanisms fail to eliminate self-reactive cells in genetically normal individuals.” Dr. Lauren Sompayrac
Infection – Slightly Different Perspective
“The possibility that at least some such diseases [autoimmune] are due to cryptic microorganisms continues to intrigue many immunologists. If even tiny traces of invading microbes remain lodged in human tissues after an infection, they argue, immune-based disease could ensue.
Although the microorganisms would be present in amounts too low to be detected by even the most sensitive clinical tests, they would still be detected by the immune system.
In such amounts, even the most virulent microbes would themselves be unlikely to cause disease, but the attempts of the immune system to ferret them out and destroy them could cause extensive damage to apparently normal human tissues.” Dr. William Clark, At War Within
What if part of an invading microorganism (bacteria, virus, etc.) actually contains a protein identical to some human protein? There is some evidence that this might happen in a few cases. Many researchers contend this is highly unlikely.
Reference: Friendly Fire: Explaining Autoimmune Disease by Dr. David Isenberg and Dr. John Morrow; At War Within by Dr. William R. Clark; Dr. Paul Cheney; How the Immune System Works by Lauren Sompayrac
“Through the integrity of the immune system we remain separate from our environment. This inner image of ‘self-ness’ or uniqueness somehow carries through to each defensive cell as it works to eliminate cancer cells that arise daily or virus particles as they penetrate from the outside world.
The mechanisms by which this image of self is transmitted and carried out are still largely unknown. We do know that the mechanisms exist and, more important, that they are subject to change.
Macrophages, for example, do not merely mope about hoping to bump against a bacterium or other source of food. They migrate from distant corners of the body, zero in on targets that they ‘know’ are alien, and then destroy them.” Dr. Jesse Stoff, The Prostate Miracle
An Important Question
One important question: Is an autoimmune disease preceded by deficient immune function?
That information, clearly stated, doesn’t seem available from a scientific source. It would seem logical, however, that a functional immune system would be able to fight off invaders without becoming “self” attacking especially since genetics are not thought to be the major part of the problem.
Note on genetics: Genetics can contribute to susceptibility (in relationship to MHC molecule expression).
However, to repeat, “Although some autoimmune disorders result from genetic defects, immunologists believe that the majority of autoimmune diseases result when the layers of tolerance inducing mechanisms fail to eliminate self-reactive cells in genetically normal individuals.” Dr. Lauren Sompayrac
Genetic inheritance is not the central determinant for autoimmune diseases for most people.
The main choice of treatment for autoimmune disease appears to be corticosteroids like prednisone. There are others. These drugs are anti-inflammatory and extremely immune suppressive. There are significant side effects.
Who Gets Autoimmune Diseases?
Individually, autoimmune diseases aren’t very common, with the exception of thyroid disease, diabetes, and systemic lupus erythematosus. However, taken as a whole, they represent the fourth largest cause of disability among women in the United States. Why focus on women?
For reasons not fully understood, about 75% of autoimmune diseases on average occur in women. Hormones are thought to play a role as symptoms can improve or change depending on hormone activity.
Symptoms Vary Widely
Symptoms vary widely from one type of autoimmune disease to another, but also vary within the same autoimmune disease. Individual diseases range from the benign to the severe.
[Reference: American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association]