Tell Me More Series: Antibodies

Public Health 101

9 Feb 2023

What are antibodies?

Antibodies are Y-shaped proteins produced by the body’s immune system in response to exposure to a pathogen (a disease-causing organism such as a virus or a bacteria).

How do antibodies work?

Antibodies work by recognizing and sticking to antigens (proteins or sugars found on the surface of pathogens that enter the body, or a toxin produced by a pathogen), and inactivating or destroying them to prevent harm to your body.
When the body encounters a pathogen for the first time, immune cells produce antibodies that specifically recognize the antigen associated with that particular pathogen.

Vaccines also contain antigens from pathogens that help your immune system to safely learn to make these antibodies.

If a person is later exposed to a specific pathogen following recovery from an infection or receiving a vaccine, the body’s immune system remembers it, and quickly produces antibodies to target the pathogen before it has a chance to cause infection. Even if they do get sick, having antibodies can help prevent serious illness because their body has experience fighting that specific pathogen. Antibodies are just one part of your immune response.

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Published 9 Feb 2023