In The Press

Defective immune system

DID you know that your child might have an immunodeficiency if he has eight or more ear infections within a year or two or more serious sinus infections in a year?

Clinical immunologist/allergist and paediatrician Dr Amir Hamzah Abdul Latiff says that while immunodeficiencies are not common, they are not rare, either.

Primary immunodeficiencies, he adds, are grossly under-diagnosed.

“Back in the 1980s, the figure was maybe 1 in 10,000 but that’s because of a lack of awareness and recognition.

“Currently, I would say that it is probably not a rare disease anymore. Certainly, in the United States, the prevalence is 1 in 1,200,” he says.

Having said that, however, he assures parents that the incidence is much less among children.

What is an immunodeficiency?

That’s when the immune system’s ability to fight an infectious disease is compromised. If it is something a person is born with it is called a primary immunodeficiency. If it is acquired some time during a person’s lifetime, it’s called secondary.

This is in contrast to an autoimmune disorder – when the immune system does not recognise substances and tissues of its own body and thinks that it is being attacked by infectious agents. It then sends out immune responses to its own cells and tissues.

“If the immune system doesn’t work, then the cardinal sign is recurrent infections,” says Dr Amir, who explains that an assessment of the immune system is needed if:

> You have two episodes of pneumonia, and you are admitted and require intravenous treatment.

> For children, they have a bad ear infection about eight times a year and require oral antibiotics yet it persists.

This article was first published in on 17 August 2011.