Much of the developing world, particularly sub-Saharan Africa, has high levels of morbidity and mortality associated with infectious diseases. The greatest risk of invasive disease is in the young, the malnourished and HIV-infected individuals. In many regions in Africa these vulnerable groups and the wider general population are under constant immune pressure from a range of environmental factors, under-nutrition and multiple concurrent infections from birth through to adulthood. Intermittent microbial exposure during childhood is required for the generation of naturally acquired immunity capable of protection against a range of infectious diseases in adult life. However, in the context of a resource-poor setting, the heavy burden of malarial, diarrhoeal and respiratory infections in childhood may subvert or suppress immune responses rather than protect, resulting in sub-optimal immunity. This review will explore how poor maternal health, HIV exposure, socio-economic and seasonal factors conspire to weaken childhood immune defences to disease and discuss the hypothesis that recurrent infections may drive immune dysregulation, leading to relative immune senescence and premature immunological aging.
Bibliographical note© 2011 The Authors. Immunology © 2011 Blackwell Publishing Ltd.
- Communicable Diseases
- Child, Preschool