H1N1 and Seasonal Flu Vaccines Combined - Should You Get One?
As flu season once again approaches, the question of whether or not fibromyalgia and ME/CFS patients should get a flu shot is again being asked. Only this time there is a new twist. This year the regular seasonal flu vaccine has been combined with the H1N1 (Swine) flu vaccine so only one shot is required.
What does this new combo vaccine mean for FM and ME/CFS patients? Since no research has been done on either the seasonal flu vaccine or the H1N1 vaccine as they relate to FM and ME/CFS, there is no clear-cut answer to that question. While most conventional doctors recommend flu vaccinations across the board, many FM and ME/CFS specialists advise their patients against getting the shot.
What the Specialists Say Last year I shared a video with you in which Infectious Disease Specialist** Dr. Kent Holtorf** strongly recommended that people with mitrochondrial dysfunction, chronic neurological illnesses, fibromyalgia and ME/CFS not get the H1N1 vaccine because, to use his word, he has seen it "devastate" them.
Due to reports of severe relapses following immunization, Charles Lapp, MD, Director of the Hunter-Hopkins Center in Charlotte, NC, generally does not recommend flu shots of any kind for his FM and ME/CFS patients. There are, however, two exceptions:
- Patients who have taken flu vaccinations in the past and tolerated them well.
- Patients who have a serious chronic illness (such as emphysema, diabetes or heart disease) in addition to FM or ME/CFS.
Charles Shepherd, MD, a U.K. doctor who is a member of the Chief Medical Officer’s Working Group on CFS/ME at the U.K. Department of Health, agrees with Dr. Lapp. He has found that a substantial percentage of his ME/CFS patients have mild-to-moderate relapses after receiving flu vaccinations.
On the other hand, Anthony Komaroff, MD, Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School, and** Jacob Teitelbaum, MD**, the medical director of the Fibromyalgia and Fatigue Centers, feels the benefits outweigh the risks because the effects of the flu on FM and ME/CFS patients can be severe and long lasting.
Things to Consider
One of the reasons some doctors do not recommend flu vaccinations for their FM and ME/CFS patients is that there is evidence that our immune systems are already in a state of chronic activation. In that case, any kind of immunization could push this hyper-stimulated state into overdrive, which would significantly increase our symptoms.
Another factor to keep in mind is your exposure level. If you’re largely homebound and have limited contact with other people, your risk of exposure to the flu will be minimal. On the other hand, if you have school-age children who are bringing home every germ and bug imaginable, then your likelihood of catching the flu will be very high.
So should you get a flu shot? Ultimately, only you and your doctor can make that decision. Your personal medical history, current health condition and level of probable exposure all have to be taken into consideration. In the end, you have to decide whether you feel the risks outweigh the benefits or vice versa.
My Personal Thoughts…
I had never taken any kind of flu vaccine until two years ago. Up until that time, I didn’t even seem to catch colds, let alone the flu (possibly from that highly activated immune system mentioned above). Then after I was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes two years ago, my doctor insisted that I get a flu shot because the flu can be particularly dangerous for people with diabetes.
Initially I thought I did fine with the vaccine since I just had a couple of days of feeling slightly under-the-weather. But after a few months, I began to realize that I was getting repeated colds. It seemed like I’d no more than get over one when I would catch another - and I lived alone then, having very minimal contact with others.
Last year, my doctor didn’t mention either the seasonal flu vaccine or the H1N1 vaccine, so I didn’t bring it up either. Despite living with three grandsons who brought multiple colds home from school - and one of them who got the swine flu - I didn’t catch so much as a simple cold all year.
I don’t know how, why or even if the flu vaccine was responsible for the drastic difference in my susceptibilty to colds, but I really don’t want to try it again. I have an appointment with my doctor tomorrow and I don’t plan to bring up the issue of the flu vaccine. If she brings it up, we’ll have to have a serious discussion.
If You Get the Flu
If you decide not to take the flu vaccination, there are two antiviral medications available should you catch the flu - Relenza (an inhaler) or Tamiflu (tablets). According to Dr. Lapp, these medications must be taken within 48 hours of onset in order to reduce the severity and length of the illness.
There is also a homeopathic remedy available at most drugstores called Oscillococcinum that some people swear by to reduce the symptoms and duration of the flu. As with many homeopathic medicines, there is a debate as to its effectiveness. While a few clinical trials have suggested that Oscillococcinum can reduce the duration of the symptoms of flu, some researchers question the statistical significance and the scientific rigor of those studies.
Lapp, Charles W. (2009, October). Influenza Vaccination., From Hunter-Hopkins Center.
Lowe, John C. (2003, December 7). Should You Get a Flu Shot? From drlowe.com.
Komaroff, Anthony. Fibromyalgia and Flu Shots. From msn. Health & Fitness.
Klein, Sarah. Flu Shots, Swine Flu and Fibromyalgia: Should Pain Patients Get Vaccinated? (2009, September 24) From Health.com.
Karen is the co-founder of the National Fibromyalgia Association. She wrote for HealthCentral as a patient expert for Pain Management.