Fundamentals - Principles, part 12: Types of Immunity and Illnesses
by Meris Shuwarger BSN, RN, CEN, TCRN July 19, 2021 Updated: June 16, 2022 7 min read
In this article, we'll cover types of immunity, chronic vs. acute illness, and modifiable vs. non-modifiable risk factors.
The Fundamentals of Nursing video series follows along with our Fundamentals of Nursing flashcards, which are intended to help RN and PN nursing students study for nursing school exams, including the ATI, HESI, and NCLEX.
Types of immunity
Immunity can be active natural, active artificial, passive natural, or passive artificial.
Let's clarify what some of these terms mean
When you hear active, think fighting. The body is actively fighting the pathogen, or a component of the pathogen.
When you hear passive, think inactive. The body is not doing anything to fight off the pathogen. Instead, the immune system has passively received the gift of antibodies.
Natural means happening naturally through normal processes, like could have happened for humans in the stone age.
Artificial means happening through science and medicine.
Active natural immunity
In active natural immunity, your body produces antibodies (active) in exposure to a live pathogen (natural).
For example, you get chicken pox, and after your initial infection, you build immunity against the disease.
If you'd like to learn more about chicken pox, check out our Pediatric Nursing Flashcards.
Active artificial immunity
In active artificial immunity, the body produces antibodies (active) in exposure to a vaccine (artificial).
For example, when you got your COVID-19 vaccine, your body was given instructions to make a portion of the pathogen (not the whole pathogen). You were never exposed to the virus, but the body actively fought the small component of the pathogen because your immune system does not know the difference. Now, you have antibodies that your body actively created.
Passive natural immunity
In passive natural immunity, you receive antibodies (passive) that were originally created in response to a disease-causing agent (natural).
This occurs when a mother passes immunity to a child through breast milk or the placenta.
Passive artificial immunity
In passive artificial immunity, you receive antibodies (passive) that were created in exposure to a vaccine (artificial).
For example, if you are bitten by an animal, you will get a rabies shot containing rabies antibodies so you don’t become infected with rabies.
There are acute and chronic illnesses, both of which have modifiable and non-modifiable risk factors. We'll talk about what these terms mean here.
Classification of illnesses
Illnesses can be classified into acute or chronic illnesses.
An acute illness is one that appears suddenly. It usually has very severe symptoms. The good news is, usually this can be identified and treated, and the patient can go back to normal.
For example, appendicitis is an acute illness. All of a sudden, a patient may have abdominal pain and high fever. They go to the hospital. They get an appendectomy, and feel much better.
Chronic illnesses have a slower onset and may come on gradually over time. They may not respond to treatment. Chronic illnesses persist for at least one year, if not longer.
As Meris explains in the video, she has a chronic illness—an autoimmune condition. It took a long time for Meris to notice the symptoms, to develop the illness, and she has had it for 15 years by now.
When discussing risk factors, it's important to consider a risk factor's modifiability. Is it something a patient can change?
Modifiable risk factors
Modifiable risk factors include diet, lifestyle, medications. These risk factors can be decreased or removed with lifestyle adjustments, like in the cases of obesity, smoking, or stress.
Non-modifiable risk factors
Non-modifiable risk factors are things that a patient cannot change. This includes their age, race or ethnicity, and family history.
Nursing education that you provide to your patient will focus on modifiable lifestyle factors. Non-modifiable factors will kelp you know what your patients may be at risk for, regardless of lifestyle changes.
Hi. I'm Meris and in this video, we are going to be talking about the types of immunity and the types of illnesses. I'm going to be following along with our Fundamentals of Nursing Flashcards. These are available on our website, levelupRN.com. If you already have a set, you can follow along with me. I'm starting on card number 35.
Okay, so first up let's talk about the different types of immunity, and on the card here you'll see that we have four different types. We have active natural, active artificial, passive natural, and passive artificial.
Before we even get started talking about the types, I want to help clear up what some of the terms mean.
So when you hear active, I want you to think fighting. Your body is actively fighting either the pathogen itself or some component of the pathogen.
When you hear passive, I want you to think my immune system is not actually doing anything to fight off the pathogen. Instead, my immune system is passively receiving the gift of antibodies.
Now when it comes to whether it is natural or artificial, natural means it's happening naturally through normal processes, and then artificial means it's happening through science and medicine, okay?
So let's just use those four terms, and let's put them together. So when we talk about active natural immunity, this means my body is actively fighting something off that it naturally encountered, so this means I was exposed to a disease. For instance, I had chickenpox, varicella when I was a child. So I was exposed to the disease. My immune system fought it off, and now I have antibodies that it created by actively fighting off something it encountered in the wild. Right?
Now active artificial, this is going to be vaccination. So when I got my COVID vaccine, my body was given the instructions to make a portion of the pathogen, so not the whole pathogen. I was never actually exposed to the virus, but my body actively fought the little component of the pathogen because your immune system doesn't know the difference. So I have antibodies now that my body actively created by itself from fighting off an artificial introduction, okay, so vaccination.
Passive natural. So passive means I'm getting those antibodies, and natural means it's happening naturally.
So this is going to be such passing antibodies through breastmilk.
So when the mom is breastfeeding a baby or even when baby is in the uterus, babies receiving antibodies through the placenta. So that is going to be passive natural immunity.
Passive artificial is going to be when you receive IV immune globulin.
So some people who have certain types of autoimmune conditions go and get infusions of different types of antibodies.
Or for instance, some COVID patients were given immune globulins of patients who had been exposed and fought and overcame COVID.
So that is going to be passive artificial. It's not happening naturally. We're giving it to them in an IV.
Important things to know - we do have a key point here - the passive protection is immediate. You immediately have the antibodies, but it doesn't last very long. Whereas the active, where we're actually fighting, using our immune system, that is going to take several weeks to develop, but it is long-lasting.
So that is going over all of the different types of immunities. And I know they can be confusing, but pay attention because we did bold and red the important words on this card.
Okay, so moving on to card number 36, we are talking about different types of illnesses and risk factors.
So first up is acute versus chronic illness. An acute illness is one that appears suddenly. It usually has very severe symptoms.
The good news is that usually this can be identified and treated, and the patient can go back to normal.
So an example would be appendicitis. Appendicitis, all of a sudden, I have abdominal pain, high fever. I go to the hospital. They take out my appendix. I feel much better.
Now, chronic illnesses, on the other hand, have a slower onset, so it may happen gradually over time. And they may not respond to treatment.
Another important thing to know is that the chronic illnesses persist for at least one year, if not longer. So for instance, I have an autoimmune condition. It is chronic. It will never go away. So it's only going to respond to symptomatic treatment.
It took a long time for me to notice the symptoms to develop it and I have had it for 15 years at this point.
So that is the difference between acute and chronic illnesses.
Now when we talk about risk factors, we talk about them in terms of modifiability. Is it something I can change, modify, or is it something that no matter how hard I work, I can't change it?
So modifiable would be things like my diet, my lifestyle. Maybe certain medications I take, that might be a risk factor for developing a certain other condition.
Those things are all modifiable.
Non-modifiable things have to do with things I can't change, so things like my race or ethnicity, things like my age and my family history. No matter what, those things are just part of me. I can't change them.
So that's the difference between modifiable and non-modifiable.
And nursing education for your patient is going to focus on those modifiable lifestyle factors if we can try to help them make changes in their lifestyle.
The non-modifiable will help us know what our patients are at risk for no matter what.
Okay, so I hope that was helpful. A review there for you of the different types of immunity and illnesses. If it was, please give us a like. If you have something to add in the comments or a really great way that you remember something, I very much want to hear it. So please leave us a comment below.
In the next video, I'm going to be talking about so much. We're going to be talking about fires, equipment malfunctions, chemical exposure, tornados, and bomb threats. And you're not going to want to miss this. This is very important information.
So be sure that you subscribe to the channel so that you are the first to know. I hope that was helpful. Please take care and happy studying!
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