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Is the Flu Shot Safe for People with MS?


Editor’s note:  In this news brief, MSF Medical Advisor Ben Thrower, M.D., addresses the topic of flu shots and the flu, including H1N1, for people with MS.


It seems like everywhere you turn, there is news about the flu. What does

all this mean for a person with MS? We need to clarify that there are two

types of flu bugs being discussed. There is the common seasonal flu and

there is the H1N1 or swine flu strain. Vaccines for these two forms of the

flu come in both a nasal spray and injectable form. So, here are some

general guidelines:


1) No person with MS should receive the nasal spray form of the

vaccination. This form is a live attenuated (weakened) virus and is not

recommended for people with MS.


2) People with MS who are on one of the beta interferons (Avonex, Betaseron,

Rebif or Extavia) or Copaxone are not considered to be immunocompromised.

The same is true for people with MS on no therapy. The risks and benefits

of getting vaccinated for seasonal flu or H1N1 has to be looked at

individually for these people. The risk of getting the flu is not higher in

this group, but if they do get the flu, there is a good chance that MS

symptoms will increase due to the infection.


3) Some people with MS may be considered to have lowered immune function.

This would include people on immunosuppressive drugs like Tysabri,

Novatrone, methotrexate, Cellcept, Imuran, Cytoxan and chronic steroids.

These people should strongly consider getting vaccinated as they may be at

higher risk for getting the flu.


4) The safety of the seasonal flu injectable vaccine has been established

by the CDC for people with MS. We expect the safety of the H1N1 vaccine to

be similar although in fairness the vaccine will not have been

specifically tested in people with MS.

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Unless otherwise specified, all medical content is compiled by MSF staff and reviewed for accuracy by a member of our Medical Advisory Board.

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