The Severe Combined Immunodeficiency


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Photo of a boy in a suit similar to a space suit.
David Vetter, popularly known as “The Bubble Boy,” was born with SCID and lived most of his life isolated inside a plastic bubble. Here he is shown outside the bubble in a suit specially built for him by NASA. (credit: NASA Johnson Space Center)

OpenStax Microbiology

Patients who suffer from severe combined immunodeficiency (SCID) have B-cell and T-cell defects that impair T-cell dependent antibody responses as well as cell-mediated immune responses. Patients with SCID also cannot develop immunological memory, so vaccines prov

ide them no protection, and live attenuated vaccines (e.g., for varicella-zoster, measles virus, rotavirus, poliovirus) can actually cause the infection they are intended to prevent. The most common form is X-linked SCID, which accounts for nearly 50% of all cases and occurs primarily in males. Patients with SCID are typically diagnosed within the first few months of life after developing severe, often life-threatening, opportunistic infection by Candida spp., Pneumocystis jirovecii, or pathogenic strains of E. coli.

Without treatment, babies with SCID do not typically survive infancy. In some cases, a bone marrow transplant may successfully correct the defects in lymphocyte development that lead to the SCID phenotype, by replacing the defective component. However, this treatment approach is not without risks, as demonstrated by the famous case of David Vetter (1971–1984), better known as “Bubble Boy”. Vetter, a patient with SCID who lived in a protective plastic bubble to prevent exposure to opportunistic microbes, received a bone marrow transplant from his sister. Because of a latent Epstein-Barr virus infection in her bone marrow, however, he developed mononucleosis and died of Burkitt lymphoma at the age of 12 years.


Parker, N., Schneegurt, M., Thi Tu, A.-H., Forster, B. M., & Lister, P. (n.d.). Microbiology. Houston, Texas: OpenStax. Access for free at: