Flu Shots Linked to Rare Neurological Condition
Because the flu is responsible for 36,000 deaths and 200,000 hospitalizations
annually, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) strongly recommends
vaccination for a large segment of the population. However, a new Canadian
study has given potential flu-shot recipients something else to think about
before they decide to get vaccinated. Researchers found that flu vaccines
significantly increase the risk of a rare neurological condition known as
Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS), although the overall risk remains quite low.
The study was included in the November 13 issue of the Archives of Internal
Lead researcher David N. Juurlink, of Toronto’s Institute of
Clinical Evaluative Sciences, stressed the importance and benefits
of flu vaccines and said that the risks associated with GBS were not
high enough to warrant a change in policy. He urged the public to continue
receiving flu shots, which he believes are responsible for saving thousands
of lives. Still, the findings were significant enough–and the
syndrome is dangerous enough–to warn patients of the risks involved.
According to the study’s authors, “From April 1, 1992,
to March 31, 2004, we identified 1601 incident hospital admissions
because of GBS in Ontario. In 269 patients, GBS was diagnosed within
43 weeks of vaccination against influenza.” GBS is a paralyzing
nerve disorder that affects only one in 100,000 people, and researchers
suggest that flu vaccination would increase the incidence of GBS by
merely one or two patients per million. Symptoms begin with muscle
weakness and tingling in the extremities, but the condition can lead
to paralysis and respiratory malfunction.
In an interview with Reuters, Dr. Juurlink said, “The risk is
infinitesimal. It’s somewhere in the vicinity of being struck
“The risk is so small and the benefits are so substantial that
I think no one should be dissuaded from getting a flu shot based upon
these findings,” he added. “I think basically it’s
a no-brainer in almost every circumstance.