Everyone hates to get the flu. The symptoms of the disease are well known – the fever, the sniffles and cough, that achiness. But new research suggests that something even more severe could result from coming down with a case of influenza – Parkinson’s disease (PD). This, according to a study from the University of British Columbia that suggests that those who come down with a severe flu are more than twice as likely to get PD later in life.
Not so fast, says Foundation Associate Director of Research Programs Maurizio Facheris, MD, MSc.
It’s important to be wary of reading too much into the study, he says. A major reason: The data culled was self-reported and not collected in a clinical setting. This means that participants could have misjudged their own symptoms, making it difficult to truly define what those being studied had suffered in the past. For example, they may have confused the common cold with the flu.
And while the study did claim to find the relationship between Parkinson’s to be with severe influenza, the study wasn’t able to objectively measure a difference between influenzas that are severe and those that aren’t. One possible explanation is that “PD subjects are more prone to subjectively report previous diseases as being more severe and more bothersome than healthy controls,” Dr. Facheris explains. This propensity could skew results.
Still, the study is interesting from a scientific perspective, and could be the latest indication that inflammation in the body (such as that caused by the influenza virus) might play a causative role in PD. Researchers, including those funded by MJFF, are now focusing in more on the idea. In fact, a new drug in development targeting Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, and PD works on just this premise – that decreasing inflammation in the brain might help to slow the development of each of these diseases.
But for now, says Dr. Facheris, “The bottom line is, we can’t yet say that a flu shot might be a protective factor for PD. Better to go out and get one if you’d rather not come down with the flu.”