Update on Smallpox and Flu Vaccinations

At this time of year, patients with lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and other autoimmune diseases always ask, “Should I get a flu vaccination?” At this time in our history, many patients are also asking, “Should I get a smallpox vaccination?” These questions are really about three more general questions: 

  • Are patients with autoimmune diseases unusually susceptible to flu or smallpox?
  • Can patients with autoimmune diseases be adequately protected if they do receive a vaccination?
  • Is the vaccine safe, in the sense that it can either cause autoimmune disease to worsen or can cause complications by itself?

The brief answers, which are different depending on the disease and vaccine, are:

1. Patients taking immunosuppressive drugs, including prednisone or other corticosteroids, and those with lung and/or kidney disease, are unusually susceptible to flu.

Although little is known about susceptibility to smallpox, based on what happens with the related varicella virus (which causes chickenpox and shingles), patients on immunosuppressive drugs will likely be at high risk for severe disease if they are exposed to smallpox.

For both diseases, the increased risk includes patients taking: corticosteroids, such as prednisone and methylprednisolone (Medrol); immunosuppressive drugs, such as methotrexate (Rheumatrex, Trexall), azathioprine (Imuran), mycophenolate mofetil (CellCept), cyclophosphamide (Cytoxan), leflunomide (Arava), cyclosporine (Sandimmune, Neoral) and similar drugs; and biologics, such as the TNF-alpha inhibitors infliximab (Remicade) and etanercept (Enbrel) and the IL-1 inhibitor anakinra (Kineret).

2. Flu vaccine successfully protects patients with rheumatic disease, if they are not taking high doses of immunosuppressive drugs.

3. Flu vaccine does not worsen rheumatic disease and is generally well tolerated by rheumatic disease patients.

See the complete article on the Hospital for Special Surgery’s web site

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Gender and Rheumatoid Arthritis

Summary of a presentation at the Living with RA Workshop at HSS

The traditional answer to the question “Why are autoimmune diseases women’s diseases?” has been “It has to do with estrogen.” But that’s not a satisfactory answer because a lot of facts that don’t fit this theory. So the question has been researched with greater interest in recent years.

What is autoimmunity? Some define it by tests done in a laboratory that find antibodies (such as rheumatoid factor) to normal tissue (parts of the body). Others say it’s the kind of disease that cause arthritis and sometimes fevers, kidney disease and other problems. Others say any disease that causes arthritis is an autoimmune disease. Animal models are another way to define it because the autoimmune diseases that we recognize can be produced in animals by manipulating their immune systems. Because autoimmune diseases tend to run in families, we tend to use a positive family history as part of the definition. By and large, all the definitions require that an autoimmune disease not be an infectious disease, such as Lyme disease and some types of hepatitis, which would look like autoimmune disease if they were not clearly caused by an infection. (This suggests that diseases such as RA may also be infectious diseases but we just haven’t identified the cause of the infection.)

Which diseases are autoimmune? Again, the answer is not totally clear. Most physicians would agree to this list: Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, primary biliary disease, chronic active hepatitis, Grave’s disease, lupus, scleroderma, rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren’s syndrome, and most rheumatic diseases, including ankylosing spondylitis. But there are many other diseases that some doctors consider autoimmune and others do not. The American Autoimmune Association would include such diseases as multiple sclerosis, hemolytic anemia, pemphigus, pernicious anemia, type 1 diabetes, myasthenia gravis, Goodpasture disease, and many others – but there is no clear consensus. And there is considerable controversy about some neurologic, skin, and intestinal diseases that are accepted as autoimmune by some doctors and not others.

Are all autoimmune diseases women’s diseases? Not necessarily. While many are much more common in women, others are more common in men. For RA, women are affected about two and a half times more common in women compared to men.

This again raises the question of why so many autoimmune diseases are much more common in women. Two important efforts to explore the question were: a conference at Hospital for Special Surgery in 1999 exploring Gender, Biology and Human Disease; and a commission of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, which last year published a book Exploring the Biological Contributions to Human Health – Does Sex Matter? – available for purchase or for free online. The NIH study looked at male/female differences in the following factors.

Environmental differences – Women may develop autoimmune diseases because they are more susceptible – or more exposed – to something in the environment. For example, scleroderma occurs spontaneously, primarily in women, but also in men who are gold and coal miners and in workers that manufacture plastics. Scleroderma-like diseases also are seen in those exposed to some toxins. Further, some drugs can cause lupus, which primarily occurs in men taking those drugs. However, no environmental culprit has been identified.

Genes – Due to genetics, women and women have some chemical reactions that are different. No genes have yet been proven to explain female predominance, but the field is just beginning to be explored.

Behavior – Some diseases are different in men and women due to behavioral differences. For example, you can develop osteoporosis based solely on personal habits because the amount of exercise you do and your body fat levels affect bone strength. Women who are intense athletes, such as marathoners, lose huge amounts of body fat, stop menstruating, and get severely osteoporotic. Girls who are anorectic and don’t eat also lose their body fat and get very thin bones. Other examples are venereal diseases, which are more common in men because of their relative level of promiscuity. And Reiter’s syndrome is a form of arthritis that is often triggered by venereal disease. So the theory is that women can predominate in a disease if men and women differ in basic personalities, but we don’t know what personality factors could lead to diseases like RA.

Whole Organism – Issues related to being a living person at given time, for example, might include age, and most autoimmune diseases start between the ages of 15 and 45. So there is something interesting about that age range. Many issues related to age might explain female predominance, such as a long period between encountering what causes these diseases and their eventual appearance. So it might be theorized that little girls do different things from little boys but it doesn’t show up as disease until 10 or 20 years later. The Army keeps blood samples of its recruits for many years; researchers have now looked at samples of this blood and found that blood tests are positive more than 10 years before the appearance of lupus and RA. So the disease has existed for more than 10 years before someone gets joint pains.

Hormones – Estrogen increases the immune response in humans and many animals. However, in some animal models we don’t see more frequent disease but more severe disease in females. That’s the opposite of what we see in humans; for example, the severity of RA and lupus are the same in men and women but the frequency is different. And the influence of hormones is inconsistent: during pregnancy, RA gets better but lupus may get worse or be unchanged. So there may be big differences in the way different autoimmune diseases appear when you get pregnant or take birth control pills or estrogen replacement. However, in two recent studies, it looks as if birth control pills and estrogen replacement have no effect on women with lupus. It’s possible that reaching a certain threshold of hormones or the cycling of hormones in menstruation could influence disease. But we still don’t know whether hormones cause disease.
Other possible differences in men and women that might relate to autoimmune disease include anatomy, pregnancy, differing physiologic responses to drugs and toxic substances, differing genitourinary tracts, influences on the baby before birth, and other factors.

Dr. Lockshin’s guess is that hormones are not the explanation for female predominance of autoimmune disease. Rather, he thinks the predominance relates to different exposures to something in the environment or differences in the way men and women’s bodies handle something, or some mixture of the various causes discussed above.

The differences in the male to female ratio of autoimmune diseases is the single most bizarre clinical fact about these diseases. It has not received a great deal of research attention so far, but finding the answer will teach us a great deal about these diseases.

See the complete article on the Hospital for Special Surgery’s web site
Summary prepared by Diana Benzaia.

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Hospital for Special Surgery Rheumatoid Arthritis Handbook

Everything You Need to Know to Lead a Full Life

• Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) affects one percent of the population, or a total of about 2.5 million Americans
• RA is three times more common in women than in men
• RA generally strikes between the ages of 20 and 50
• RA has no cure; however, treatment has improved dramatically over the past 25 years

Considering these statistics, a new publication by HSS physicians, The Hospital for Special Surgery Rheumatoid Arthritis Handbook, is a must have for anyone who has RA. In plain English, using real-life examples, it explains what RA is, its causes, progression and various effects on the human body. This comprehensive book provides information that patients really need to take charge of managing their disease and working with their doctors to develop a treatment program that’s right for their lifestyle and life goals.

The authors – Hospital for Special Surgery’s Dr. Stephen A. Paget, Physician-in-Chief of HSS, and Dr. Michael D. Lockshin, Director of the Barbara Volcker Center for Women with Rheumatic Disease — are internationally recognized leaders in the fight against this crippling disease. Assisted by Suzanne Loebl, a former science editor of the Arthritis Foundation, the physician-authors expert advice covers a wide-range of topics of vital concern to anyone affected by RA, including:

• Old, new and emerging drug therapies
• Pain management techniques
• Nutrition, diet and exercise for RA
• Diagnostic tests used to identify the disease and gauge its activity
• Managing lifestyle issues such as sports, travel and sex
• Pregnancy and RA
• Pros and cons of having total joint replacement surgery
• Psychological impact of a chronic disorder

Published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc., the book retails for $16.95.

About Hospital for Special Surgery
Founded in 1863, Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) is a world leader in orthopedics, rheumatology and rehabilitation. HSS is nationally ranked No. 1 in orthopedics, No. 3 in rheumatology by U.S. News & World Report, and has received Magnet Recognition for Excellence in Nursing Service from the American Nurses Credentialing Center. In the 2006 edition of HealthGrades’ Hospital Quality in America Study, HSS received five-star ratings for clinical excellence in its specialties. A member of the NewYork-Presbyterian Healthcare System and an affiliate of Weill Medical College of Cornell University, HSS provides orthopedic and rheumatologic patient care at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital at New York Weill Cornell Medical Center. All Hospital for Special Surgery medical staff are on the faculty of Weill Medical College of Cornell University. The hospital’s research division is internationally recognized as a leader in the investigation of musculoskeletal and autoimmune diseases. Hospital for Special Surgery is located in New York City and online at

See the complete news release on the Hospital for Special Surgery’s web site

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Lupus Vasculitis and Blocked Blood Vessels

Adapted from a talk at The SLE Workshop at Hospital for Special Surgery

  1. Warning About Misuse of the Term
  2. What is Vasculitis?
  3.  What Vasculitis is Not
  4. When Does Vasculitis Occur in Rheumatic Disease?
  5. When is Vasculitis an Important Complication of an Autoimmune Disease?
  6. Diseases in Which Vasculitis is the Specific Illness
  7. Vasculitis by the Size of the Vessel
  8. Small Vessel Vasculitis
  9. Medium Vessel Vasculitis
  10. Large Vessel Vasculitis
  11. Summary

Vasculitis means inflammation of the blood vessels. (Vasc refers to blood vessels and itis means inflamation). Vasculitis is a problem that can arise independently of other illness, or it may co-exist with lupus or other autoimmune diseases. When it exists in lupus, it may simply confirm the diagnosis, causing no problems, or it may represent a change in the course of the lupus, with vasculitis as a serious complication. Thus, vasculitis may mean many things. If a doctor says you have vasculitis, ask what that really means – what disease process is going on and what it means for you.

Warning About Misuse of the Term “Vasculitis” Vasculitis should not be confused with vasculopathy, which simply means something is wrong with the blood vessels, although it’s usually not vasculitis. Some people use these words interchangeably, which is wrong. Some people, even physicians and especially on the Internet, use the term “vasculitis” very loosely. So you may see statistics about vasculitis on the Internet that are very frightening, but they don’t provide any information on your situation. The term vasculitis is used ten times as often as it should be by people who are not really referring to this disease. Unfortunately, even some doctors often use the term vasculitis to mean “person with autoimmune disease and blood vessel abnormality that I don’t understand.” If your doctor says you have vasculitis, ask specifically what he/she means before you go to the Internet!

What is Vasculitis? Vasculitis is blood vessel inflammation that causes fever, pain, local tenderness, and other evidence of blocked blood vessels. When a blood vessel becomes inflamed and narrowed, blood supply to that area can become partially or completely blocked. Complete blockage is called occlusion; it causes the vessel wall to swell and makes things stick to the wall — so a clot forms. When vasculitis interferes with circulation in any part of the body, it causes local tenderness and pain. If the blood vessels are close to the skin, characteristic rashes occur. Depending on where the blockage occurs, almost any organ in the body can be affected. (Note: Vasculopathy can also block blood vessels, but it does not cause the fever, pain, and local tenderness associated with vasculitis.) While vasculitis may involve arteries (the thick muscular vessel that carries blood away from the heart) and veins (the thinner, less muscled vessels that carry blood toward the heart), it is rare for both arteries and veins to be involved at the same time.

What Vasculitis is Not Many problems that block blood vessels looks like vasculitis, and doctors often jump the gun and call them vasculitis, but greater care is needed to find out what’s really going on. Among the diseases involving blocked blood vessels that are not vasculitis: Atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries); Growths on the heart valves that break off, especially those due to infection; Excessive blood clotting (antiphospholipid syndrome); Vessel spasm, especially due to drugs (legal and illegal).

When Does Vasculitis Occur in Rheumatic Disease? All of the rheumatic diseases involve some level of underlying vasculitis. That includes lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, scleroderma, and dermatomyositis. If you biopsy a swollen joint in RA, you routinely find vasculitis. That finding is used to confirm the diagnosis, but it doesn’t mean anything important is happening. It just suggests that one of these autoimmune diseases is present. So vasculitis is a common finding in these diseases, important in diagnosis, but it doesn’t necessarily mean anything more. It may never be a problem!

When is Vasculitis an Important Complication of an Autoimmune Disease? There are times in lupus and RA when the disease takes a different course in the presence of vasculitis. You start getting sicker and develop fever – clues to the physician that there has been a change in the course of illness. Now we say “This is lupus complicated by vasculitis” or “This is rheumatoid arthritis complicated by vasculitis.” The disease has changed its character and usually needs more vigorous treatment.

See the complete article on the Hospital for Special Surgery’s website

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Guarded Prognosis


Guarded Prognosis: A Doctor and His Patients Talk About Chronic Disease and How to Cope With It

ISBN: 9780809053452

ISBN10: 0809053454

Published: Farrar Straus & Giroux

Publish Date: 1998-06-01 Pages: 288

Binding: Hardcover Dimensions: 1.01 L x 6.31 W x 9.31 H

Description: When individual and broad social values clash, who should determine the course of action?

An important new voice, Michael Lockshin, M.D., speaks out on health care in America today. A noted physician with broad experience in treating long-term, incurable patients, Lockshin shows exactly how our health-care system could be more efficient, less costly, and more humane.

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Kirkus Reviews


Guarded Prognosis: A Doctor and his Patients Talk about Chronic Disease and How to Cope With It

Using his patients’ personal stories to illustrate dramatically how medical care once worked and how it works today, a concerned and caring physician makes clear just why he fears the current system has a very poor prognosis. Director of the Center for Women and Rheumatic Disease at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, Lockshin specializes in lupus, a chronic disease that affects every organ in the body and brings its patients into contact with all segments of the medical-care system. Drawing on some 35 years of medical experience, he writes knowingly and sympathetically of patients who need long-term, expensive care, whose problems may require speedy treatment by specialists. In doing so, he questions how well such individuals would fare in a system where primary-care doctors act not as their patients’ advocates but as gatekeepers, deciding who will have access to what kind of care. He acknowledges that cost is at the heart of the medical-care crisis, but points out that this cost comes largely from common, chronic, and crippling diseases. Lockshin outlines what he perceives as the elements of an ideal system and calls for a vigorous public debate over the issues, which, he notes, seem medical but are social and political as well. He argues that decision-making criteria concerning health-care resources and spending must include compassion as well as cost-benefit. The questions he raises about cost cutting, rationing of care, doctor-patient privacy, and individual needs and rights are ones that deserve careful consideration. An able spokesman for the poor and chronically ill, those whose voices he believes are seldom heard in the debate over health policy in this country, he has given us stories to remind us that abstract policies affect individuals who could be us or those we love. 

 Copyright ©1998, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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Publishers Weekly


Guarded Prognosis: A Doctor and his Patients Talk about Chronic Disease and How to Cope With It 

 With 35 years’ experience as a physician, Lockshin remembers the days before Medicare, Medicaid and HMOs. Working particularly with lupus patients, he has accrued vast knowledge of chronic illness, insurance and hospital administration. Here, in the voice of a caring doctor whose primary concern is always the welfare of his patients, Lockshin provides moving human case histories that illustrate current issues and dilemmas in American medicine. His prognosis is bleak, as he details how the personal welfare of individuals and their families is often ignored by a system obsessed with numbers and, ultimately, “comfortable profits.” Lockshin finds that, in particular, the elderly, the poor and those with chronic illnesses are not well served by the number-crunching approach of insurance companies and hospital administrations. He observes that limiting the number and kinds of tests and procedures, the length of hospital stays and access to specialists keeps costs down in the short term, but drastically reduces the quality of care and often ends up costing more later. In this enlightening and frightening book, Lockshin carefully considers all sides to his arguments and, finally, offers hope that beneficial compromise is still possible.

Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Guarded Prognosis: A Doctor and his Patients Talk about Chronic Disease and How to Cope With It 

The subtitle tells much more about this book than the title. For doctors do not treat aggregates of patients, they treat individual humans. Lockshin argues that governments, insurance companies, hospitals, and HMOs should listen to individuals rather than the impersonal figures aggregates produce. Many of Lockshin’s patients have lupus, arthritis, or scleroderma. Since those diseases affect different patients in different ways, Lockshin’s emphasis on the individual makes sense; each person’s sense of health priorities, he says, should be carefully considered when choosing a treatment program. Lockshin draws a clearcut distinction between medicine and science: the former deals primarily with individuals, the latter with theories and groups. Since HMOs have come into the picture, many doctors are being forced to think of each potential patient in terms of whether this treating of this person is going to be an occasion of profit or of loss, and he asks, “Are you sure that you know for whom your doctor works?”

William Beatty,  Booklist

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Guarded Prognosis: A Doctor and his Patients Talk about Chronic Disease and How to Cope With It 

From Our Editors Like James Herriott, Oliver Sacks and Lewis Thomas, Michael Lockshin teaches us about illness and health by telling stories about medicine. His stories focus not on disease, but the risks of the health care system. He demonstrates the heartbreaking, horrifying and hilarious situations patients and doctors must deal with – the kind not found in insurance company formulas. Not only does Guarded Prognosis honour the ill and those who care for them, it shows exactly how health care could be more efficient, less costly and more humane.


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