Yet the war is far from over, prompting a leading physician to swap his clinic for the immunology lab.
In this video, Dr Peter Openshaw, a researcher at Imperial College London, UK, discusses what motivated him to leave medical practice and become a researcher.
“What frustrated me as a frontline doctor was seeing people with diseases, patching them up and sending them home. But we are not doing enough to prevent illness in the first place.”
In a passionate and clear talk, he explains how the immune system works, but also how some of the body’s own defence strategies – such as coughing to expel ‘foreign’ particles – can be hijacked by viruses to infect other people.
War on diseases
The lecture entitled ‘Our germs, our guns: an uneasy peace’, recorded as part of the Science-Inspired Tales series, looks at how the immune system helps to neutralise viruses and how vaccines use the immune system to prevent infection.
“The most important thing is to try and protect people from getting ill because once they have become ill it can be difficult to get them well again.”
He said health policymakers should make the most of “the fantastic vaccines we have against things like smallpox, diphtheria, tetanus, typhoid, cholera” which previously killed millions of people in Europe annually – and still kill people in developing countries.
“Around 40% of the deaths of children aged under 5 could be prevented by the vaccines we already have,” he said.
Watch the video and let us know what you think