Tuesday, August 25, 2009

[U.K.] Doctors on lookout for Guillain-Barré symptoms in swine flu patients:


Sam Lister, Health Editor

Doctors treating swine flu patients have been instructed to monitor the incidence of a rare nerve disease that has been linked to the body’s immune response to flu-like illnesses.

Neurologists will study the occurence of Guillain-Barré syndrome, which affects the nervous system and can cause temporary paralysis, during the swine flu pandemic and vaccination programme.

Health officials stress that there is no evidence linking the syndrome to vaccination, but it is known that there is an increased risk of developing it after a flu-like illness.

The exact cause of Guillain-Barré syndrome — which affects about 1,500 people a year in the UK — is unclear, but it is thought to involve an auto-immune reaction. Many people affected by it have had a viral or bacterial infection a few weeks earlier.

Very slight increases in rates duing vaccination programmes — causing one or two extra cases per million people inoculated — have raised questions about links to the way a vaccine primes the immune system. But studies have shown no evidence of a significant increase in risk of the syndrome for those having a flu jab.

A Health Protection Agency spokesman said that enhanced surveillance was routine when introducing a new vaccine.

More than 13 million people in the UK, including people with asthma, diabetes, heart disease, renal disease or with a compromised immune system will get the jab from October.

The normal seasonal flu vaccine may be given at the same time.

The spokesman said: “Guillain-Barré syndrome has long been identified as a potential adverse event that would require enhanced surveillance following the introduction of a pandemic vaccine but there is no evidence to suggest there is an increased risk of Guillain-Barré syndrome from this vaccine.

“There is robust evidence that no increased risk of Guillain-Barré syndrome arises from seasonal flu vaccination.

“Establishing enhanced surveillance on Guillain-Barré syndrome has always been part of our pandemic plan because there is an increased risk of this disease after a flu-like illness.

“HPA is working in collaboration with the Association of British Neurologists Surveillance Unit and the British Paediatric Surveillance Unit, who will ask clinicians to report each month whether they have seen any cases of Guillain-Barré syndrome.”

A Department of Health spokesman said: “In preparing for a pandemic, appropriate trials to assess safety and the immune responses have been carried out on vaccines very similar to the swine flu vaccine. The vaccines have been shown to have a good safety profile.”

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