Arthritis patients being treated with the drug rituximab should be given flu vaccinations immediately before treatment begins or several months later, but not in the first two months after treatment, Dutch researchers have found. The vaccine is not dangerous when given after treatment with the drug, but it also provides no benefit, failing to stimulate the production of antibodies against the flu virus. Other drugs used to treat arthritis have no effect on immunization, however.
Rheumatoid arthritis, which affects more than 4.6 million people worldwide, is an autoimmune disease that attacks the patient's joints and surrounding tissues. It also compromises a patient's immune system, leaving him or her at risk from a variety of infections. Most physicians thus recommend that patients receive a flu vaccination every year to ward off serious illness, and also recommend immunization against pandemic H1N1 influenza.