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Definition of Attenuated

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Attenuated: Weakened, diluted, thinned, reduced, weakened, diminished.

The use of "attenuated" in medicine is not new. In the 16th century, eating dried figs was claimed to attenuate the body fluids.

Now "attenuated" refers to procedures that weaken an agent of disease (a pathogen). An attenuated virus is a weakened, less vigorous virus. A vaccine against a viral disease can be made from an attenuated, less virulent strain of the virus, a virus capable of stimulating an immune response and creating immunity but not causing illness.

The word "attenuated" derives from a combination of the Latin prefix "ad-" meaning "to" or "toward" and "tenuis" meaning "thin."

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Reviewed on 12/11/2018

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