Am J Respir Med. 2002; 1(1): 3-9.
Sleigh KM, Marra FH, Stiver HG.
Division of Infectious Diseases, Department of Medicine, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
Chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) is a recognized clinical illness of unknown cause and pathophysiologic mechanisms. Immunizing patients against influenza would seem to be a prudent strategy since infection has been associated with symptom exacerbation. However, patients with CFS have demonstrated variable abnormalities in the immune system, the clinical significance of which is unclear.
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Anecdotal information has suggested that, due to the etiologic uncertainty surrounding CFS, many patients reject immunization, fearful of untoward effects. This article attempts to clarify the situation by reviewing immunologic findings in CFS and influenza vaccines in current use. Results from a recent survey of perceptions of patients with CFS regarding immunization revealed that 31% felt immunization was neither safe nor beneficial. This opinion was universal in those patients who had never received influenza vaccine.
Among patients who had received vaccine and experienced an adverse effect, 26% felt the vaccine was safe and 28% felt it was beneficial. Among those who had received vaccine without an adverse effect, 45% believed the vaccine was safe, and 55% felt it was effective. CFS patients as a group expressed concern that influenza vaccine would alter an already dysfunctional immune system, or worsen CFS symptoms.
Significantly more patients with CFS who had never received influenza vaccine voiced this opinion than did patients who had received immunization for influenza in the past. Contrary to the opinions expressed by the sample, clinical trials in CFS have yet to find that any type of immunization has produced a deleterious effect on symptoms or functioning.
Moreover, patients with CFS in a randomized, placebo-controlled, double-blind trial of influenza immunization produced an antibody titer in the protective range to inactivated trivalent influenza vaccine, although the geometric mean titer was slightly blunted compared with healthy vaccinees. Although patients with CFS in placebo and active groups reported four times the number of post-injection adverse effects of healthy vaccinees, data re-analysis revealed that this finding was related to the overlap of common, post-influenza immunization symptoms and CFS constitutional symptoms. CFS is a poorly understood illness and some patients may believe in causal theories that lead to the rejection of disease prevention strategies such as immunization.
However, influenza immunization appears to provide protective antibody levels without worsening CFS symptoms or causing excessive adverse effects. Efforts to motivate patients with CFS to obtain annual influenza immunization should take into account illness perceptions and concentrate on education based on placebo-controlled trials.
PMID: 14720070 [PubMed – in process]