A study published in the January 2010 issue of Arthritis and Rheumatism reported that the rheumatoid arthritis (RA) drug rituximab (marketed as Rituxan) lowers the effectiveness of flu shots.
The study was led by Dr. Sander van Assen at the University Medical Center Groningen in the Netherlands. His research team found that after using Rituxan, patients may have to wait 6 months before their flu vaccine offers full protection.
The study included people who did not have RA and those with rheumatoid arthritis. The participants with rheumatoid arthritis were treated with either rituximab or methotrexate. To learn more about these and other RA drugs, read our article about medications for rheumatoid arthritis.
Fortunately, the researchers found that having previous flu shots helped provide extra protection against the flu, regardless if the patient was taking Rituxan.
Despite the findings, the researchers still encourage patients with RA to get vaccinated for influenza and H1N1 swine flu. Getting vaccinated while taking Rituxan is safe, and it won't exacerbate rheumatoid arthritis symptoms.
It's especially important for people with rheumatoid arthritis to get flu shots annually. Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder, which means the immune system attacks the body instead of protecting it. That means that people with RA have weaker immune systems than those who do not have the condition.
To help alleviate Rituxan's adverse effect on the potency of flu vaccinations, Dr. van Assen recommends that patients consider flu vaccinations before starting rituximab treatment.
To learn more about this study, read the abstract here.
Learn More about Rheumatoid Arthritis
In the spine, rheumatoid arthritis typically causes painful swelling in the joints of the neck (cervical spine). You can read more about RA in the spine and the joints it affects in our article about the anatomy of rheumatoid arthritis.
And if you'd like to learn more about RA treatments, our article about non-surgical treatments for rheumatoid arthritis is a great place to start. It has links to the most common non-surgical treatments for this type of inflammatory arthritis.
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