Influenza is a disease that each year afflicts even the healthiest of people. It is therefore of particular concern for elderly, young, and immunocompromised individuals who are at a greater risk to develop more frequent and severe cases of disease. However in a recent report scientists from Dublin concluded that the influenza vaccine can be safely administered to children infected with HIV—thus allowing protection for some of the most at-risk individuals.
Though H1N1 caused a great deal of public concern in 2009, in the subsequent fiver years the problem has not gone away. This particular strain of influenza has persisted at lower levels and is still a cause for concern to public health officials. In particular this strain of the flu is known for the ease with which it infects even the healthiest of adults and adolescents. To combat this threat, this year’s seasonal flu shot includes immunity to H1N1.
People with HIV are especially vulnerable to H1N1 influenza. Though there is conflicting evidence over whether or not HIV-infected patients are more susceptible to HIV, once infected these individuals are likely to develop more severe cases of the flu. In addition the flu can sufficiently weaken the immune system and leave the already-sick person open for secondary infections and further complications.
Because of their immunocompromised status, HIV positive individuals must be very mindful of how best to protect themselves against infection. There are a many vaccines that are not recommended to HIV positive patients because they can contain live, attenuated viruses that have the potential to overwhelm an already weakened immune system. Even vaccines that are considered “safe” may sometimes cause fever, pain, and weakness.
This month the journal Influenza and Other Respiratory Viruses published a report that concludes that the standard pandemic H1N1 influenza vaccine is safe for children with HIV. They administered two doses of the AS03-adjuvanted pandemic H1N1 vaccine to twenty-four HIV infected children and observed their physiological responses. An analysis of antibody titers showed that the inoculated children produced a robust amount of antibodies to the H1N1 flu. This means that the children were effectively immunized against the H1N1 virus. Additionally, the vaccine did not have any effect on the progression of the HIV infection. Nor did the vaccine in any way require a modification to the normal treatment regimes for HIV.
This discovery comes at an important time in the global HIV disease progression. Today estimates put the number of children living with HIV at over 3 million. This number represents an overall decline in child HIV cases since 2011. The knowledge that these children can safely receive immunization against other diseases such as H1N1 is an important step towards increasing the long-term overall quality of life for these individuals.
Outside of the benefits to the HIV positive children, the public at large also stands to benefit from the results of this research. The principle of herd immunity tells us that having more people vaccinated against a disease overall lowers the risk of infection for everyone in the population. Therefore adding HIV positive children to the list of people vaccinated against H1N1 further reduces the threat that this specific type of flu poses to society.
To conclude, children living with HIV have plenty of worries about their health to consider. Though it may be only a small blessing in the big picture, vaccination against H1N1 influenza should allow them one less cause for concern.
By Sarah Takushi