Colds and flu

20 July 2011

H1N1 not linked to Guillain-Barre syndrome

A new study finds that the supercharged vaccines used to fight the H1N1 flu epidemic in 2009 may not have boosted the risk for Guillain-Barre syndrome after all.


A new European study finds that the supercharged vaccines used to fight the H1N1 epidemic in 2009 may not have boosted the risk for a disease known as Guillain-Barre syndrome after all.

Guillain-Barre is a rare disorder, which causes a person's immune system to damage nerve cells, resulting in muscle weakness and even paralysis.

In 1976, a vaccine used during a US flu outbreak was linked to the disease, and the government halted vaccination. Debate has continued since then over whether vaccines in use could trigger the syndrome.

In a study published in the journal BMJ, a consortium of researchers reported that the H1N1 vaccine posed little, if any, increased risk for the disease.

Possible that small risk remains

"This study provides reassurance that adjuvanted pandemic influenza A (H1N1) 2009 vaccines did not increase the risk of Guillain-Barre syndrome substantially, if at all," they wrote in a journal news release.

Their conclusion stemmed from an analysis of 50 million people in five European countries that vaccinated people against H1N1 in 2009. The researchers compared 104 people with Guillain-Barre syndrome or a related condition to other people without the diseases.

The researchers adjusted their statistics to account for other risk factors for the diseases and found no link between flu vaccination and Guillain-Barre syndrome. Still, noting that it's possible a small risk might remain, they estimated there may be less than three extra cases of Guillain-Barre syndrome for each one million people who get protected by a flu vaccination.

Larger studies already in progress should provide even more definitive information, the study authors added.

(Copyright © 2010 HealthDay. All rights reserved.)


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Flu expert

Dr Heidi van Deventer completed her MBChB (Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery) degree in 2004 at the University of Stellenbosch.
She has additional training in ACLS (Advanced Cardiac Life Support) and PALS (Paediatric Advanced Life Support) as well as biostatistics and epidemiology.

Dr Van Deventer is currently working as a researcher at the Desmond Tutu Tuberculosis Centre at the University of Stellenbosch.

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