Blogging with Parkinson's

A personal perspective on Young Onset Parkinson's

Influenza: Inoculation and Parkinson’s

5 Comments

A medical syringe. Image by Biggishben, from Wikipedia.

I have an appointment for a ‘flu jab next week.

The Internet is stuffed to the gills with stories of how ‘flu vaccines cause neurological conditions, yet the medical establishment are urging those of us with neurological conditions to get inoculated against influenza.

The UK Department of Health says:

People who have a liver disease, heart or chest problems, neurological conditions, those aged 65 or over and all pregnant women are among the groups being urged to make an appointment with their GP to have a flu jab if they haven’t already done so.

Source: http://www.dh.gov.uk/health/2011/11/remember-to-get-your-flu-jab/

I got a letter inviting me to get a jab. I kind of ignored it for a while because, well, I hardly ever get ‘flu and I’m basically quite healthy. I wasn’t aware that Parkinson’s put me at greater risk. But I stumbled upon a discussion thread on the Parkinson’s UK forum that suggested it was a good idea, so I made an appointment (just squeezing in to the last available ‘flu clinic at my local GP’s surgery)… and started to investigate why.

As noted above, there are a lot of scare stories around about the vaccine causing neurological problems. There is also a fair few instances of bald statements to the effect that people with neurological conditions, like Parkinson’s, are more likely to catch the ‘flu, more likely to suffer badly with it, and more likely to get secondary infections.

As an aside, my experience this May seems to support this; I caught the ‘flu, which lasted longer than it did the only other time I’d had it, and then I managed to get a very nasty chest infection (an unwelcome novelty). But all of that could just have been a coincidence.

What is the evidence that people with Parkinson’s are more at risk from the ‘flu? I honestly couldn’t find anything concrete – just repeated assertions that it was so. Which, I have to say, is rather disappointing. I would be very interested if anyone could enlighten me as to how it was decided that we are at a higher risk (perhaps there is epidemiological evidence), and why scientists think this might be.

Edit (13th November 2011): The US version of the WebMD site suggests, on its page about swine flu, that “people with chronic conditions are more susceptible to severe flu, and are also more prone to flu complications, such as secondary infections and severe pneumonia.” Parkinson’s is a chronic condition (chronic means persistent, or long-lasting). The article also refers to the risk of a “compromised immune system”. I know that the immune system is implicated in Parkinson’s – i.e. that Parkinson’s is an autoimmune disease, but I’m not sure that this necessarily makes the immune system weaker (unless, of course, the drugs used to treat the condition affect the immune system; as far as I know, none of the common Parkinson’s drugs do this).

I still don’t know why a chronic condition might affect someone’s susceptibility to influenza just because it is chronic. Nor why some chronic conditions appear to be elevated above others in terms of risk (Parkinson’s seems to be a higher risk than, say, Crohn’s Disease* – at least, it appears on more lists of risky conditions).

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*Crohn’s disease does not seem to be a risk factor in itself, but the immunosuppressive drugs sometimes used to treat it are.

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5 thoughts on “Influenza: Inoculation and Parkinson’s

  1. In a curious timely coincidence, I just heard an advertisement on the local radio promoting the National Health Service’s free inoculation service for those deemed to be at risk. “Neurological conditions” and “Parkinson’s Disease” were both mentioned.

  2. I think you’ve made a good decision. So many people have immunisations, that anyone having a problem that coincides with the injection will – being human – attribute the problem to the jab. I think the reasoning is different for each chronic condition. I have diabetes, and we’re offered the jab because any infection tends to raise blood glucose levels and make the diabetes harder to control; so there’s a risk of the severe complication of going into ketoacidosis. With Parkinson’s, it might be more to do with the physical ability of the lungs to thoroughly ventilate, and thereby assist the fight against an infection ? But I’m guessing at that. I suppose the thing that all chronic conditions share, is that getting anything on top is “double trouble” !

    I’ve had the flu jab for the last 20 years or ever since it’s been available, never had ‘flu and generally had good winters. The one person I know who blamed the flu jab for subsequent illness, was someone I managed at work a while back, and although I had to be professional about it all, I just didn’t believe her. She was a spirit medium in her spare time which personally added to my scepticism; and once, when on a gradual phased return to work from terrible chronic fatigue, managed to get to Dublin to see Robbie Williams !

    • Sorry, might have gone off on one there…

    • That’s alright, it’s obviously something you feel strongly about. I try to avoid jumping to conclusions, too, and would have been similarly sceptical, I think, of your former colleague.

      I’m not unduly concerned about the jab (apart from a vague dislike of needles, but that is hardly unusual). I understand that it doesn’t even contain live viruses. I was more concerned that I would be taking the place of someone who might need it more.

      • Cheers. I know, it’s a surprise to find one becomes priority for such things. But the NHS has NICE to decide who and what has priority now, so I guess we can rest assured we need it.

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