Patients with the autoimmune disease systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) have an increased risk of infection, due to both disturbances in their immune responses and treatment with immunosuppressive drugs. Because morbidity and mortality related to influenza are increased in immunocompromised patients, it is recommended that patients with SLE get annual flu shots, which are safe and do not increase disease activity. Both antibody and cell-mediated responses are involved in the immune response to influenza; in SLE, antibody responses to the vaccine are diminished, but it is not known if the same effect is seen in cell-mediated responses. A new study was the first to examine cell-mediated responses in SLE patients prior to and following influenza vaccination. The study was published in the August issue of Arthritis & Rheumatism (http://www.interscience.wiley.com/journal/arthritis).
Led by Albert Holvast, of the University of Groningen in The Netherlands, the study involved 54 patients with SLE and 54 healthy controls who received subunit flu vaccine, out of a total of 78 patients in each group. Patients were randomized 2:1 to receive a flu vaccine or serve as a nonvaccinated control. Patients and controls were followed up at 28 days and three to four months following vaccination, at which time blood was drawn.
Vaccination induces an influenza virus-specific immune response which is generally documented as the generation of antibodies specifically reacting with the virus. However, the main defense against the virus is exerted by specific immune cells, in particular CD4+ and CD8+ T-cells which are part of the immune response induced by vaccination. The level of this so-called cellular immune response has until now not been documented in patients with SLE, but is crucial for the effect of vaccination.