Q I have had Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS). Can I get the flu shot?
DR. TED M. BURNS RESPONDS:
A For a patient who has had GBS, there's no easy answer to the question of whether or not to get the flu vaccine. The former GBS patient should carefully discuss the pros and cons of flu vaccine with his or her doctor.
When making this decision, there are a few things that should be kept in mind that can assist in making this decision (see box).
FACTORS TO CONSIDER
- ▸ If your prior GBS occurred weeks after a flu vaccine, you should strongly consider avoiding future flu vaccines.
- ▸ It is probably best to skip the flu vaccine for a year or so following the episode of GBS.
- ▸ Remember that influenza illness is potentially dangerous, and there is some evidence in the medical literature that suggests influenza illness might—although rarely—trigger cases of GBS.
- ▸ Know that there are many former GBS patients who have received subsequent flu vaccines without complication.
- ▸ Lastly, the likelihood of a recurrence of GBS following flu vaccine is quite low. For example, the evidence in the medical literature suggests that less than 5 percent of former GBS patients will experience mild symptoms suggestive of a relapse following vaccination. These symptoms are almost always very mild and self-limiting.