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Study Finds Small Incidence of Guillain-Barre Syndrome from H1N1 Vaccine in U.S.

Update Date: Mar 13, 2013 02:29 PM EDT

After battling the dangerous swine flu pandemic that afflicted nearly a fifth of the global population from 2009-2010, researchers discovered that there might be a small health risk for the millions of people who received the H1N1 vaccine in the United States. According to a study done by the National Vaccine Program Office of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in Washington, there was a small incidence of people developing Guillain-Barre syndrome, a muscle disorder that leads to temporary paralysis or muscle weakness. This incidence was so small that the researchers state that the risks are considered to be very low.

The researchers looked at the database of 23 million Americans who received the H1N1 flu vaccine during the pandemic provided by six different sources which included the core vaccine safety data link, systems developed by Medicare and the U.S. Department of Defense and Veteran Affairs, as well as other new systems created by the campaign to vaccinate people against the strain. These programs were created to monitor the effects of the vaccine since the H1N1 vaccine that was used in the 1974 flu led to several complications, like the development of Guillain-Barre syndrome. These side effects actually stopped the vaccinations in the 70s.

The databases recorded 61 million cases of the flu, 274,000 hospitalizations, and 12,470 deaths. The researchers found that there were 77 reported cases of the rare muscle disorder within three months of the vaccination. Despite the development of Guillain-Barre syndrome, the researchers said that the benefits of the vaccination outweighed the cons. The vaccine is estimated to have saved 700,000-1.5 million cases and prevented 4,000-10,000 hospital stays and 500 deaths.

Guillain-Barre syndrome occurs when the body starts to attack its own nerves, especially the ones responsible for movement and respiration. The syndrome often leads to muscle weakness, but it can also cause deaths. This autoimmune disease tends to present in adults who have roughly an 80 percent chance to recover completely if they receive proper treatment. This syndrome usually affects one in 100,000 people, and the vaccine added an extra 1.6 cases per one million people who were vaccinated. This number is considered to be a small risk. The researchers noted that this H1N1 flu vaccine was not the one used in Europe known as Pandemrix, which was linked to increasing the risk for narcolepsy in children and teenagers.

The study was published in The Lancet.

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