Healthbeat Report: The H1N1 Flu Vaccine

September 24, 2009 (CHICAGO) That's because a swine flu vaccine back in the 1970s become associated with a rare and crippling side effect.

The fear we're addressing is about an unusual neurological disorder called Guillian Barre Syndrome. You may have heard it mentioned along with the new H1N1 vaccine.

Public health officials are downplaying any fears. But people are concerned. So what is this illness and is there reason to worry?

Doree Cozi, 49, is a pilates instructor. Shannon nelson, 20, is a Chicago college student and artist. They're women with one thing in common, a rare and crippling neurological disease called Guillain-Barre syndrome. It left both with severe muscle weakness. Doree couldn't move from the neck down. For Shannon the experience was just as traumatizing.

"I couldn't even sit up in bed. I couldn't smile, I couldn't even close my eyes," said Shannon.

Guillain-Barre Syndrom or GBS is a serious disorder where the body's immune system mistakenly attacks part of the nervous system.

Symptoms get worse quickly. For Doree there was concern she wouldn't be able to breathe.

"If we don't start treating you, you are going to be on a ventilato," said Doree. Shannon blames the cervical cancer vaccine Gardasil because one week after the injection parts of her body started going numb.

"It has to be the vaccine what else would it be," said Shanon.

There have been other reports like Shannons but the centers for disease control and prevention say there is no indication Gardasil increases the rate of GBS.

Researchers don't know a lot about what triggers Guillian-Barre Syndrome but in some cases vaccines are suspected. And that has people worried because back in 1976 the swine flu shot was associated with reports of hundreds of people coming down with Guillain-Barre. A few people died.

It's not clear if the vaccine was to blame but the inoculations were stopped.

Professor Raymond Roos has studied GBS.

"To a great extent one should be concerned about this," said Dr. Roos. "I think the attention is appropriate but I hope it doesn't prevent people from taking the vaccine because I think it's advisable."

Roos doesn't expect a repeat of 1976. He says the techniques for rapidly making vaccines in the 1970s were much less sophisticated. The government has determined the H1N1 vaccine is safe and will be closely monitoring for dangerous side effects.

"I plan to line up for the swine flu vaccine myself," said Roos.

Doctors believe this rare illness is much more likely to be triggered by a viral or bacterial infection. Symptoms of muscle weakness can last for weeks or months or years. Most people recover but some have nerve damage and between 5 to 6 percent of people die.

"It does not come on in most cases immediately it usually comes on a week or two following whatever triggered it," said Roos. "We do have some interventions some medical treatment which can accelerate the disease getting better."

"I had not had a flu shot. I did not recall having any kind of virus before I got Guillain-Barre," said Doree.

Doctors say Doree's story is typical. No vaccine involved. It just hit without much explanation. After extensive rehab, she's almost fully recovered.

"I have some tingling occasionally in my hands and feet but other than that it's gone," said Doree.

Past research suggests that one to two people out of every million vaccinated may be at risk of GBS. There are treatments to help speed recovery. It's not contagious and as we said most people fully recover.

Consumers should know that under a document signed by the secretary of health and human services. Vaccine makers and federal officials will be immune from lawsuits that may result from the new swine flu vaccine.

Dr. Raymond Roos
University of Chicago Medical Center
Center for Advanced Medicine
5758 S. Maryland Avenue
Chicago, IL 60637
Office Phone: (773) 702-5659

Dr. Gregory Gruener
Loyola University Medical Center
2160 S. First Ave.
Maywood, IL 60153
(888) LUHS-888

GBS/CIDP Foundation International
The Holly Building 104 1/2 Forrest Ave.
Narberth, PA 19072
Tel: 610-667-0131 866-224-3301
Fax: 610-667-7036

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Illinois Vaccine Awareness Coalition

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