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 <"http://www.yourlawyer.com/topics/overview/Guillain_Barre_Syndrome">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 Medicine.

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 by lightning.”

“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.”

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