Public Health

Does A Past Case Of Guillain-Barre Mean Skipping Swine Flu Vaccine?

We've got another swine flu question. This one comes in an email to the blog from Wendy Pierce of Bozeman, Montana:

I am one of the unfortunate people that had Guillain-Barre, not associated with the swine flu. I have heard that I should not get vaccinated, is that true?

This is a tricky subject. Guillain-Barre syndrome is a rare and mysterious neurological condition that can cause partial paralysis and, on rare occasions, death.

There were several hundred cases of Guillain-Barre following the vaccination of millions of people for swine flu back in 1976, but doctors are still arguing about whether those cases were caused by the vaccine.

Studies of vaccines and Guillain-Barre since then have shown no relationship. With the new H1N1, the government has asked neurologists to report any suspicious cases, and so far, at least, there doesn't seem to be a link between the vaccine and the condition.

So what about someone like you, who's already had Guillain-Barre? The Food and Drug Administration says don't get vaccinated, if your symptoms came within six weeks of a previous influenza vaccine. If not, then their advice is that your decision should be based on "careful consideration of the risks and benefits."

When we checked in with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, they noted that Guillain-Barre is a precaution for flu vaccine. "However, for people who are at higher risk of complications from flu, there may still be some benefit in vaccination," the CDC told us.

Sounds to us like the best bet is to talk over the specifics with your doctor.

If you've got a swine flu question, email us at shots@npr.org. Please let us know where you're from when you write.

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