My immune system is weird. Why?
October 1, 2010 3:53 AM   Subscribe

Immune system filter: My immune system is weird! I'm generally healthy, but really susceptible to staph infections (mostly impetigo), and don't react to histamine.

When I was a kid (ages 2-4, about), I suffered from chronic ear infections, and was therefore on a ton of antibiotics. (I know for a fact that they included augmentin, which I described as tasting like rusty lemons, and amoxicillin.) Since my immune system was close to nothing because of all the antibiotics, I developed a really bad sinus infection and ended up getting a staph infection from a minor cut on my foot.

In part of the attempt to figure out what was causing the sinus infection, I had multiple scratch tests to see if I had any allergies. I didn't... but I didn't even react to the histamine "control" scratch. They did more than one test on me and on multiple parts of my body, and still no reaction. The only time I've had symptoms similar to allergies was when I was in Rome (with 17, Summer 2007) -- I think it must have been the air quality or something, because as soon as I got out of Rome, all of those symptoms went away. Anti-histamines don't do anything other than make me really sleepy. I react to mosquito bites, which I think is usually a histamine reaction, but they don't get big and are rarely super itchy.

For most of my life (I'm almost 21), I seem to have been really prone to staph infections -- as a kid, I seem to have gotten more stys and infected cuticles and other minor things, and as a young adult, I've been super susceptible to impetigo. It's particularly bad around my eyes, on my lower back, and other random places, including the back of my hand, and I get infected cuticles really often, despite washing my hands regularly. For more severe cases, I've had luck with antibiotics (bacitracin), and I catch a lot of things really early with Staphaseptic, which seems to stop potential infection in its tracks.

Other than that, though, I rarely get sick. I get sniffly or congested when the weather changes drastically or I haven't been sleeping enough or whatever, but those always go past pretty quickly. My roommate last year even had H1N1, and I didn't get sick.

So, here are my main two questions:
1) Why am I super susceptible to staph infections without being generally sickly?
2) What could have caused a non-reaction to histamine? We know it was working, because my mom got a scratch test at the same time. Would this have carried into my adult life? I've googled this and searched through databases of medical journals and haven't found anything.
posted by naturalog to Health & Fitness (5 answers total)
Oh, right. I'm a 21-year-old White American female currently living in Germany.
posted by naturalog at 3:55 AM on October 1, 2010

You may carry a hardier strain of staphylococcus aureus on your skin, and/or you are simply more susceptible to staph as a rule. Individual immune systems vary in competence, not just overall, but with regard to individual pathogens and/or sites of infection. Other people don't catch mycoplasmic pneumonia as easily as I do.

Mosquito reactions are histaminergic. So, yes, you do have a cutaneous immune reaction to histamine. It's just not very strong. Just as some people with allergies get hives and others go into anaphylaxis, the less-reactive end of the spectrum varies as well. And histamine is only one part of an immune reaction.

Plus, you do react to histamine-blockers. They make you sleepy. This is part of the H1-blocking effect. If you were actually non-responsive to histamine, your question would not include 'I'm not generally sickly.'
posted by Uniformitarianism Now! at 5:37 AM on October 1, 2010

Impetigo can also be caused by strep, and I think strep is at the root of your tissue issues (though I'm not suggesting your impetigo is necessarily a strep infection).

As I don't doubt you may be aware, rheumatic fever is set in motion by Group A strep infections such as scarlet fever and strep throat, but the damage to joints and the heart is not due to any presence of the bacteria in those organs, but results from an attack by a person's own immune system on healthy tissue caused by the presence of antigens on or in the bacteria that the immune system does not distinguish from antigens in the joints and heart.

As a preventative response to this very dangerous autoimmune attack, I think some people with a susceptibility to chronic or repeated strep infections are able, in effect, to turn down an aspect of their immunity, but only at a cost of perennial vulnerability to some kinds of bacterial infections, at least-- which you are apparently experiencing.

And some of the other consequences may be surprising. PANDAS, for example, offers a persuasive model associating neuropsychiatric problems such as Tourette's and OCD with strep infection, and the pictures of yarns and knitting you've chosen for your profile page lead me to think you might have had a bit of a brush with that, too.
posted by jamjam at 1:05 PM on October 1, 2010

>and the pictures of yarns and knitting you've chosen for your profile page lead me to think you might have had a bit of a brush with that, too.

Not to derail, but jamjam, can you explain what this means? I don't understand.

posted by pseudostrabismus at 7:48 PM on October 1, 2010

Knitting as OCD is a standing joke among the knitters I know.
posted by jamjam at 6:45 PM on October 2, 2010

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