Natural killer (NK) cell deficiency is an inherited immune system disorder in which the patient has low or absent levels of a certain type of white blood cells called NK cells. The NK cells help the immune system fight against disease and infection. These cells recognize and destroy body cells that have become infected with viruses or cancer. They have pouches, called granules, which are filled with chemicals that destroy infected cells on contact.
Healthy individuals normally experience fluctuations in the number of NK cells in the blood. These cells rapidly increase in response to an infection and then decrease for five to seven days after the infection.
Patients with NK cell deficiency are born with low or nonexistent levels of NK cells. As a result, these patients are vulnerable to infections. Life expectancy varies among patients, depending on how severe the deficiency. The condition may lead to fatal infections and recent studies have suggested patients may have an increased of developing cancer.
The exact incidence of NK cell deficiency remains unknown.
Currently, there is no specific treatment for NK cell deficiency. Instead, treatment focuses on curing infections associated with the disorder. Treatment of infections is generally longer in patients with NK cell deficiency than in the general population because they respond more slowly.
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