The flu vaccine is more effective for African-American lupus patients than for European-American patients, according to new research from OMRF.
Findings from this study may help physicians treating lupus patients to better understand who may benefit the most from influenza vaccination and who might need other avenues of protection, said OMRF’s Judith James, M.D., Ph.D., lead author of the study.
Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system confuses healthy cells with foreign substances, like viruses and bacteria, attacking the body’s tissues and organs.
“Infections are a leading cause of death for lupus patients,” said James, chair of OMRF’s Arthritis and Clinical Immunology Program. “They are more susceptible because of a combination of their dysfunctional immune systems and the use of lupus treatments, which dulls the immune system to prevent it from attacking itself. Consequently, patients with weakened immune systems are more susceptible to infections that most people could fight off.”
Infectious diseases are responsible for 23 percent of hospitalizations and up to 50 percent of deaths in lupus patients. To reduce the risk of infection, doctors advise vaccination for common diseases, including influenza.
The study by James and OMRF scientists Linda Thompson, Ph.D., Joan Merrill, M.D., and Joel Guthridge, Ph.D., appears in the journal Arthritis & Rheumatism. The researchers tested samples from 72 lupus patients before vaccination and at 2, 6 and 12 weeks after receiving the flu vaccine. They tested for antibody concentration and categorized the patients as high or low responders.
African-American patients were three times more likely to be high responders to the flu vaccine than European-American patients.
“We don’t know why these two patient populations reacted differently to the same vaccine,” said James, who holds the Lou C. Kerr Chair in Biomedical Research at OMRF. “It could be that African-Americans make more antibodies or have more immune cells, but this is a subject we’ll explore in future studies.”
James emphasized that this study should not deter anyone from receiving a flu shot. “Vaccines are still our first line of defense against influenza,” she said. “But we do need to make sure that all of our lupus patients know the signs and symptoms of infection and when to contact their health care providers for treatment.”
The next step in the research is to find ways to improve vaccine effectiveness in lupus patients while minimizing flares of the underlying disease. “In the future, we think this information could help doctors understand better ways to administer vaccines for the best potential protective responses after vaccination,” James said.
Funding for the research was provided by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases and the National Center for Research Resources.