Which diseases give you lifetime immunity?
February 27, 2019 8:35 AM   Subscribe

My chickenpoxed kid wants to know what else besides chickenpox gives you lifetime immunity after you get it once?
posted by gakiko to Health & Fitness (18 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Seems like ebola.
posted by saladin at 8:44 AM on February 27, 2019 [2 favorites]

Chicken Pox doesn't always give you lifetime immunity. The virus lies dormant in your spinal cord but can reactivate later as shingles later in life. Some people with autoimmune diseases can get chicken pox multiple times (ask me how I know!)
posted by Ashwagandha at 8:49 AM on February 27, 2019 [42 favorites]

Chickenpox is actually kind of a weird case, because the virus never goes away - it just goes dormant and actually recurs in many people - but usually in the form of Shingles. That's one of the reasons that we vaccinate against chickenpox now, since even though chickenpox in children is not (usually) dangerous, Shingles can be really debilitating.

A few others are Mumps, Measles, Heptatitis A (an interesting one, actually - very young children (generally) have very few or no symptoms from Hep A, so in communities where it is endemic they often don't vaccinate, since getting the disease young basically counts as vaccination). Dengue fever (on a specific virus-by-virus level).
posted by brainmouse at 8:50 AM on February 27, 2019 [9 favorites]

Assuming a fully functional immune system with plenty of healthy memory B and T cells, most diseases should confer lifelong immunity. The exceptions are diseases that mutate rapidly to evade immune detection (like flu or the common cold) or some parasites like malaria.

This is the whole principle that underlies vaccination. A vaccine introduces weakened or dead particles to encourage your memory cells to "learn" what they look like and generate antibodies so that if you are ever exposed to the real thing, you bust out a bunch of antibodies that tag the virus/bacterium and get it eaten by a macrophage before it has a chance to do any real damage. A single vaccine dose might be, say, 75% effective at getting your memory cells' attention -- that's why vaccines often need boosters -- but the underlying principle is the same as for natural immunity.

And yeah, shingles is not an infection per se, it's a reactivation of latent chickenpox that's been hiding in your nerves for decades, just waiting for your immune system to take a dip.
posted by basalganglia at 9:06 AM on February 27, 2019 [17 favorites]

There are 4 different serotypes of dengue fever. The conventional wisdom was that once you got dengue fever you would have lifelong immunity to that particular serotype of dengue (but not the other serotypes.) But apparently there is evidence that everyone doesn't always get lifelong immunity.
posted by Redstart at 9:07 AM on February 27, 2019 [2 favorites]

Toxoplasmosis is an interesting one - lots of people are immune to it this way, not realising they’ve ever had it.
posted by Catseye at 9:52 AM on February 27, 2019

Shingles can't give another person shingles, but it can give chickenpox to a person who's never had or been vaccinated against them. Which I think makes it hard to deny shingles the status of an infection.
posted by jamjam at 9:53 AM on February 27, 2019 [4 favorites]

Point of order: immunity does not mean the same thing in medicine as it often does in common English. Immunity does not mean it is impossible to get a disease. It’s not like a fire elemental being immune to fire damage or diplomatic immunity or whatever.

When we talk about acquiring immunity to a disease after infection, it’s better to think about this as a resistance, not some complete invulnerablility.

What you’re really looking for is diseases for which there is a very long period of very strong immunity, none of this is absolute or forever.
posted by SaltySalticid at 9:57 AM on February 27, 2019 [15 favorites]

Not completely (for reasons alluded to above) but most people who get the Epstein-Barr virus (mono) are unlikely to get it again. And many people get it as infants.
posted by dismas at 10:15 AM on February 27, 2019

Shingles can't give another person shingles, but it can give chickenpox to a person who's never had or been vaccinated against them.

I can testify to this, having caught chickenpox last year at the ripe old age of 41 from a friend with shingles. Due to partial immunity (one dose of the vaccine when it came out years ago - IIRC two is typical now) it was just harmless, painless spots rather than the typical scabby itchfest, but certainly was unexpected.
posted by Flannery Culp at 10:41 AM on February 27, 2019 [2 favorites]

As everyone's said above, there are diseases that after you've had it once, it would be "very unusual" to have it again, so I'd be comfortable saying you're effectively immune, such as:

Roseola, aka Sixth Disease

Fifth Disease, aka Parovirus B19 or "Slapped Cheek Syndrome"

Scarlet Fever (in Little Women, Beth nervously asks Jo if she's had scarlet fever and is relieved when she confirms she and Meg had it as little girls; later their sister Amy is sent away to avoid catching it)

Hand Foot and Mouth is maybe not quite as likely to be one-and-done, but most people build up immunity to it throughout childhood, and that immunity + improved hygiene as they get older means they're unlikely to get it.
posted by castlebravo at 11:16 AM on February 27, 2019 [2 favorites]

As far as I'm aware, rhinovirus (common cold) immunity is permanent. What's that you say, that you've had the cold more than once in your lifetime? Well, never the same cold. It's just one name for a class of viral diseases with a bazillion variations, so it's pretty small consolation to know you've never had the same one twice.
posted by Sunburnt at 11:25 AM on February 27, 2019 [5 favorites]

I think adaptive immune system is a starting point for this. But would defer to anyone who actually knew what they were talking about.
posted by WCityMike at 12:53 PM on February 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

Zika, according to the CDC.
posted by wnissen at 1:48 PM on February 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

Well, never the same cold.

Yep. And in that light, Kiddo may enjoy learning about the Red Queen hypothesis, which is an import part of understanding viral variation, evolution and specific identity.
posted by SaltySalticid at 2:29 PM on February 27, 2019 [2 favorites]

I think hepatitis A qualifies.
posted by citygirl at 5:00 PM on February 27, 2019

As of 2017 you can get a shingles vaccine! Apparently it's recommended for people over 60 who are more likely to be immune to chickenpox already and thus get shingles instead.

The original cowpox immunity that protected you from smallpox is a fascinating science history story. That specific virus is mainly transmitted to us via cats now.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 5:39 PM on February 27, 2019 [2 favorites]

According to a doctor I consulted about my chronic fatigue issues, mononucleosis is considered one of the "one and done" illnesses.
posted by orange swan at 7:09 PM on February 27, 2019

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