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The Role of Vaccines in Arthritis and Fibromyalgia

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By News release • • April 28, 2000

After decades of vaccine use in the U.S., current research shows no definitive evidence proving vaccines cause chronic illness.

According to the Arthritis Foundation, there is no known link between vaccines and fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, or lupus, and while the number of persons with these conditions has been rising, the statistics do not support alarm over these increases. In considering the increases, it's important to remember that rheumatoid arthritis (a type of arthritis that causes systemic inflammation, as well as joint problems), arthritis, and lupus are primarily diseases of middle and older age. A very large segment of the American population--the so-called "baby boomers"--are now entering the ages when these diseases occur, so an increase in the numbers of cases is to be expected.

Perception of increases in fibromyalgia incidence may be because this disease has only recently been defined, and it is just in the past decade that physicians have known that the various symptoms of fibromyalgia (chronic muscle aches and pains, "trigger points" of pain, and chronic, sometimes overwhelming fatigue) do constitute a specific disease. Thus, it is not possible to know whether the number of cases detected these days represents an increase over that which occurred previously.

Arthritis, on the other hand, is not a "new" disease. Evidence of osteoarthritis (arthritis confined to the joints, where one bone meets another) has been found as far back as the mummies of ancient Egypt. Its incidence increases with age. In a comprehensive 1994 study of adverse events associated with vaccination, the Institute of Medicine reviewed the possibility of a link between diphtheria and tetanus vaccines--these vaccines are generally given in combination--and arthritis. The Institute found that it is biologically possible for these immunizations to be associated with arthritis, primarily because the tetanus toxoid has the potential to induce serum sickness, which is a source of a temporary form of arthritis.

However, the Institute also found that the evidence available in scientific studies up to 1994 was inadequate to determine whether this biologically possible link actually occurs. Since those findings were reported, one group of researchers found a link between rubella vaccine and temporary, acute arthritis, arthralgia (joint pain) or myalgia (muscle pain) when the vaccine was administered within 12 months of giving birth. Another group found no evidence of any increased risk of developing chronic arthritis, arthralgia, or myalgia within the 12 months following vaccination; the women in this study were of childbearing age.

Similarly, the Institute found that a link between hepatitis B vaccine and acute or chronic arthropathy (inflamed, painful joints) also is biologically plausible, but the studies available are inadequate to accept or reject a causal link to vaccination. A link between the disease, hepatitis B, and arthropathy has been proven.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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