What common lack of knowledge about the immune system would you like to correct?

BWH experts clear the air on misunderstandings they hear about the immune system.

Portrait of Elazer R. Edelman, MD, PhD

“The annual flu shot cannot give you the flu; there is no live virus in the vaccine. However, you may feel achy or under the weather for a day or two after the vaccine, while your immune system is learning what the flu might look like. It is not the flu.”

Joyce Hsu, MD
Staff Physician, Allergy and Immunology

Portrait of Deepak Rao, MD, PhD

“The immune system is like a muscle—you have to use it to keep it strong. From fetal and infant life on, exposure to healthy and unhealthy microbes is important for the development of the immune system.”

Tanya Laidlaw, MD
Director, Translational Research in Allergy

Portrait of D.A. Henderson

“There is no such thing as a non-allergenic cat or dog.”

John Costa, MD
Medical Director, BWH Allergy and Clinical Immunology Practice

Portrait of Stacy Smith, MD

“Vaccines do not cause autism. Do your child and everyone else a favor. Vaccinate!”

Scott Rodig, MD, PhD
Director, Tissue Biomarker Laboratory of the Center for Immuno-Oncology

Portrait of Stacy Smith, MD

“Immunizations completely changed childhood diseases. But we’re starting to see re-emergence of measles, polio, and other diseases due to people not immunizing their children. Even when a population has been vaccinated for many years, these diseases can linger.”

Chrysalyne Schmults, MD
Director, Mohs and Dermatologic Surgery Center

Portrait of Stacy Smith, MD

“Adults who had a childhood allergic reaction to penicillin often think they’re still allergic when they’re not. Studies show more than 90 percent of adults who think they are allergic to penicillin can take it safely, and this can be determined by a simple skin test.”

Paul Sax, MD
Clinical Director, Division of Infectious Diseases

Portrait of Stacy Smith, MD

“There’s a lot of hype about probiotics. To modify your gut microbiota, you have to eat lots of foodstuffs with microbes in them to help those organisms establish and grow. Taking a probiotic can’t hurt, but that alone is like adding a drop of water to the ocean.”

Lynn Bry, MD, PhD
Director, Massachusetts Host-Microbiome Center

Portrait of Paul B. Shyn, MD, PhD

“I think the biggest floating myth is that the immune system is black and white in terms of self and foreign. We are learning the immune system is capable of progressive adaptation and is a complex interplay of self, our microbiome, and pathogens.”

Mandeep Mehra, MD
Medical Director, Heart and Vascular Center



Illustrations by Michael Hoewele