Rheumatoid arthritis patients missing influenza and pneumonia vaccinations face high infection risk: New study

By: Dr. Victor Marchione | Arthritis | Thursday, May 12, 2016 - 12:30 PM

Rheumatoid arthritis patients missing influenza and pneumonia vaccinations face high infection riskRheumatoid arthritis (RA) patients missing influenza and pneumonia vaccinations face a higher risk of infection, according to research. The researchers looked at data from over 15,000 patients diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis who were treated with some types of immunosuppressive medications. At least one in five patients were not vaccinated for influenza, and one in two patients were not vaccinated for pneumonia.

Patients with rheumatoid arthritis have a heightened risk for infection, so vaccination guidelines should be utilized in order to reduce the risk of harmful infections in these patients.

Lead researcher Dr. Will Dixon said, “There is no national data on vaccination uptake broken down in a way that allows us to pull out those with RA. Only one study in the US has looked at whether patients with rheumatic diseases are being vaccinated prior to starting immunosuppressive therapy.”

Dr. Ben Brown, who was also part of the study, added, “Guidance on influenza and pneumococcal vaccination for RA patients is unclear, and payment to carry it out in primary care is variable. In future, it may be beneficial for rheumatologists to provide GPs with specific advice about appropriate vaccination for individual patients, or to consider administering the vaccinations themselves in their own clinics – either way, both approaches should be adequately funded.”

Richard Francis, head of research liaison and evaluation at Arthritis Research U.K., said, “Around 400,000 people in the U.K. live with the excruciating pain of rheumatoid arthritis. The impact of rheumatoid arthritis and the drugs used to treat the condition on the ability to fight infection is significant, and this study underscores the importance of vaccination in helping prevent the impact of influenza and other infections.”

Related Reading: Is Pneumonia Contagious?

Rheumatoid arthritis and vaccination recommendations

Many varieties of rheumatoid arthritis medications work to suppress the immune system because RA is an autoimmune disease, meaning the immune system often overreacts. Therefore, if the immune system is suppressed, disease progression is slowed down. Although this is an effective means of treating rheumatoid arthritis, it does pave the way for an increased risk of illness. In order to prevent some of these illnesses, it’s important to get properly vaccinated.

Vaccination for rheumatoid arthritis patients is safe, but not through nasal spray. This is due to the fact that the virus is active in nasal sprays unlike in vaccination shots.

Generally, vaccinations are safe and responsive in rheumatoid arthritis patients, but patients on high-dose prednisone or immunosuppressive drugs do not make good antibodies, meaning they are not protected.

Ask your doctor whether the vaccination may be good for you and then keep up-to-date with your vaccination schedule in order to keep yourself protected.

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