Just when you thought you had heard everything about the flu, something new comes along.
The Journal of Dermatology recently reported that swine flu has been associated with alopecia arietta. That means influenza can make you bald, or at least partly bald.
Alopecia Areata is a condition where a patch of hair falls out and you have a bald spot. It isn’t well understood, it’s idiopathic (meaning we doctors haven’t figured it out). The condition is believed to be caused by your body attacking your hair follicles. That makes it a relative to autoimmune disorders like Lupus or Rheumatoid Arthritis. Why exactly this happens remains unclear, but there are clear triggers for this.
What is a trigger? That is something that sometimes starts a medical problem, which the person had a tendency toward. This tendency is genetic, but we don’t know how to test for it. A lot of things in medicine are like this. You may know someone who is 80 and has smoked all their life, or an alcoholic who doesn’t get cirrhosis.
The trouble is we can’t test for this tendency. If we could, our patients would love us. We could do a test and tell you it’s OK for you to smoke, drink and eat junk food. The next patient we could tell to exercise and be vegetarian or they won’t see 40.
We just don’t yet know enough to sort this out.
A bit of good news is the swine flu is the main flu circulating this season, and the vaccine prevents it. Alopecia Areata is not the end of the world. The hair usually grows back after several months or a year.
But partially bald is not my planned look for Christmas.
Stay well (and get your flu shot).