The Real Poop
"Mucous and rashes and shots, oh my…."
Immunologists are on call for all the nitty-gritty experiences of everyday life that lead to minor (and major) diseases. If Brad didn't wash his hands after walking the dog and now feels a little dumpy, it's an immunologist who figures out how to make him feel less dumpy.
If Chuck licks a handrail in the subway station on a five-dollar bet and now has a swollen tongue, the noble work of the immunologist will get him back to his size and licking ability. And when pollen kicks Susie in the nose every spring, a kick too hard for even Flonase to defend, the immunologist can come up with a…kick right back. Right in the face.
The dirty, the allergic, and the sick are in luck; immunologists are docs who just love to figure out what germs, microbes, and viruses are doing to make people sweat, sneeze, puke, or pass out. And they get paid well for their efforts, raking in somewhere between $160,000 and $220,000 per year, depending on their specialty (source).
It's like the clean, sanitary, anti-microbial version of a dirty, gross, nauseating job. And just like any other (kinda) dirty job, someone's gotta do it.
Immunology is the study of…wait for it…the immune system. They mostly handle allergy issues, but also help those with weakened immune systems as well.
There are a few different areas immunologists can focus on. Some focus on cells, hoping to see what happens on a way-zoomed-in level when diseases strike. The answer generally goes one of two ways: there's a humoral response (which has nothing to do with laughing), when the body releases antibodies to fight off the disease; or, there's also a cellular response (no ringtones involved), where the cells fight off a disease on their own. Cells can be feisty like that.
If the cellular stuff isn't messy enough, there's always clinical immunology. The main focuses for these brainiacs are the big-time diseases that affect the immune system. These are generally immunodeficiency diseases, like AIDS, that disable the immune system and keep it from working. There are also autoimmune diseases, like diabetes, that make the immune system revolt and attack the body.
Then there are developmental immunologists, who study the way our immune systems function as we grow. Babies don't usually get arthritis and they often outgrow allergies, so it's important to try to learn why in each case. The sleuths tackling those mysteries and many more can be found in a lab near you. Be on the lookout for white coats, microscopes, and lots of hand sanitizer.
Finally, there are groups of immunologists who study animals to see if they can find anything to help humans. It's called evolutionary immunology. Who knows, maybe alligators will help us cure AIDS, or maybe prairie dogs will unlock the mystery of pollen allergies. These researchers would be the ones to find out.
Whether they're in a lab, in a college classroom, or giving you back your scratch test results, immunologists are keeping tabs on the unseen, unheard villains trying to kill (or at least inconvenience) the human race. Next time you see an immunologist on the street, give him or her a high-five. You should also high-five yourself for being able to recognize a random immunologist in their street clothes.