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Immunosuppression describes a number of conditions that prevent the immune system from responding to infection. As a result, even minor infections can quickly overwhelm the body, resulting in serious illness or death. The cause can be:
- Genetic - some persons can be born without a functioning immune system, or can develop immunosuppression later in life.
- Radiation - radiation destroys the bone marrow, which produces white blood cells.
- Drugs - Many drugs used to treat inflammation, like steroids, work by suppressing certain parts of the immune system. Transplant patients are commonly put on these types of drugs to prevent tissue rejection.
One of the problems with treating an immunosuppressed patient is that the normal tests for infection often come back negative as the test is for antibodies, which are not produced by an immunosuppressed patient.