Struggling to fight off infections could be a sign of a primary immunodeficiency disease (PID)

Do you know someone who seems to be sick more often than they are well?

Children and adults who fall ill with recurrent, unusual or more severe infections may suffer from an undiagnosed underlying PID.

This is according to Professor André van Niekerk, Paediatric Pulmonologist and Vice Chairman of the Allergy Society of South Africa, who adds that these conditions often go underdiagnosed and underreported.

There are more than 350 known PIDs

The Allergy Society of South Africa (ALLSA) and the Allergy and Clinical Immunology Foundation of South Africa (AFSA)supports an effort by several international organisations to raise awareness on PID’s during World PID week (22-29 April 2018).

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What causes a primary immunodeficiency disease?

PIDs result from an immune system that is partly or totally dysfunctional. This is due to changes in the genes that program the development and function of the immune system.

Children and adults who fall ill with recurrent, unusual or more severe infections may suffer from an undiagnosed underlying primary immunodeficiency disease

In addition to infections, patients may also suffer from associated immune-related conditions like allergies, auto-immune diseases, auto-inflammatory diseases and cancer.

Detecting a primary immunodeficiency disease

The early detection of PIDs plays an important role in how effectively they are managed.

Early diagnosis will improve the quality of life, prevent complications and even be life-sparing in some cases. Some of these conditions are evident in early life while others only manifest in adulthood.

The reason that these conditions are often underdiagnosed, according to Professor Van Niekerk, is because young children generally suffer from infections more frequently, and infections are then often perceived as ‘normal’ occurrences. The diagnosis is also often complex.

Symptoms to watch out for

We should become suspicious of an underlying PID when infections are more cumbersome. We can sum it up with the acronym ‘SPUR’.

  • Severe: when infections turn out more complicated than expected
  • Persistence: when infections last longer than expected
  • Unusual: when the micro-organisms involved should not normally cause an infection in immune competent people
  • Recurrence: when infections just occur too frequently.

In addition to ‘SPUR’, other associated findings, like a family history of PID, growth faltering, infections involving different parts of the body, complications after the administration of live vaccines etc. should also warn the doctor of a possible underlying PID.

Professor Van Niekerk states that PID’s can be managed with different forms of treatment.

“Certain types can be cured, others can be managed with the right interventions. But, the success of the treatment will always depend on how early the condition is detected.”

If you suspect PID, speak to your doctor about your symptoms.

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