Add to collection
  • + Create new collection
  • Your body has a two-line defence system against pathogens (germs) that make you sick. Pathogens include bacteria, viruses, toxins, parasites and fungi.

    The first line of defence (or outside defence system) includes physical and chemical barriers that are always ready and prepared to defend the body from infection. These include your skin, tears, mucus, cilia, stomach acid, urine flow, ‘friendly’ bacteria and white blood cells called neutrophils.

    Pathogenic (disease-causing) microorganisms must make it past this first line of defence. If this defence is broken, the second line of defence within your body is activated.

    The skin is the largest organ of your body. It acts as a barrier between invaders (pathogens) and your body. Skin forms a waterproof mechanical barrier. Microorganisms that live all over your skin can’t get through your skin unless it’s broken.

    Tears, mucus and saliva
    Your nose, mouth and eyes are obvious entry points for pathogens. However, tears, mucus and saliva contain an enzyme that breaks down the cell wall of many bacteria. Those that are not killed immediately are trapped in mucus and swallowed. Special cells line and protect the nose, throat and other passages within your body. The inner lining of your gut and lungs also produces mucus to trap invading pathogens.

    Very fine hairs (cilia) lining your windpipe move mucus and trapped particles away from your lungs. Particles can be bacteria or material such as dust or smoke.

    Stomach acid
    Stomach acid kills bacteria and parasites that have been swallowed.

    Urine flow
    Your urine flow flushes out pathogens from the bladder area.

    ‘Friendly’ (beneficial) bacteria
    You have beneficial bacteria growing on your skin, in your bowel and other places in the body (such as the mouth and the gut) that stop other harmful bacteria from taking over.

    These are white blood cells that can find, kill and ingest pathogens seeking an entrance into the body.

    You may now like to read this article The body's second line of defence.

    Related content

      Published 2 November 2010 Referencing Hub articles
          Go to full glossary
          Download all