How to Explain the Immune System

Illustration of a doodle saying "What are you doing?!" to a second doodle who is eating tiny exercise equipment and saying "Strengthening my immune system! Duh." as a third doodle looks on, saying "What? No! Why?! Thats not how it works!" There is a caption below the drawing that says "Please DO NOT eat tiny exercise equipment."

Today, dear readers, we’re talking about a system of the body that comes up pretty regularly in health communication (especially during cold and flu season!). Yep, you guessed it: the immune system — basically a private army that fights infections to keep us healthy. And really, who doesn’t ❤ that?

The thing is, it’s not always easy to explain the immune system to readers. That’s why we always pause to ask ourselves: Do we need to use the term or can we simply explain what happens instead?

Some readers do need to know the term “immune system” — like people living with HIV or getting treatment for cancer. Since their immune systems are so relevant to their care, you’ll want to teach these readers exactly what the term means. Consider saying something like:

The medicine you get during chemotherapy can weaken your immune system (the system that helps your body fight infections). When your immune system is weak, you’re more likely to get sick — and it can take longer for you to get better.

For readers who don’t need to know the ins and outs of the immune system, you may not need to use the term. Instead, you could say something like:

During chemotherapy, your loved one is more likely to get sick — and it can take longer for them to get better.

The bottom line: Teach the term “immune system” to readers who will be hearing it often and skip it with those who won’t.


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