WHO broadens probe of narcolepsy-flu vax link

The World Health Organization is widening its probe of a possible link between GlaxoSmithKline's Pandemrix vaccine and narcolepsy. In an advisory panel briefing, Reuters reports, the agency said other pandemic flu vaccines need study as well. The announcement follows last week's release of a Finnish study suggesting that children who got GSK's shot were nine times more likely to develop the sleep disorder.

"Further investigation is warranted concerning narcolepsy and vaccination not only with Pandemrix, but also with other pandemic H1N1 vaccines," WHO spokeswoman Alison Brunier said (as quoted by Reuters). The agency said Pandemrix remains on its preferred vaccines list, and countries should still administer the shot to certain patients if no seasonal vaccine is available.

GSK says it's conducting its own investigation into reports of narcolepsy among Pandemrix patients. "GSK is reviewing the Finnish report and believes it would be premature to draw any conclusions," the company said. The Stockholm-based European Center for Disease Prevention and Control said its conducting a study of narcolepsy and pandemic-flu vaccines, and European Medicines Agency officials have been looking into the reports as well.

One unusual feature of the narcolepsy data is that 70 percent of the case reports involved patients in Scandinavian countries. GSK said it had received 162 case reports, most of them from Finland and Sweden. WHO officials said there might be a genetic link. In 22 of the Finnish cases tested so far, all carried a gene known to increase narcolepsy risk.

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