Researchers have found in a new study that people who have felt psychologically low or under stress had a lower response to a meningitis vaccine than expected. Undergraduate students in the UK all get a vaccination against meningitis, to protect them from an outbreak of this potentially fatal brain infection. So they form an ideal population for studying the effects of stress on immune response.
Researchers at the University of Birmingham asked a group of students about their mental wellbeing and took blood samples to measure antibody levels against meningitis. Those who had high levels of perceived stress and felt 'low' psychologically had lower antibody levels. They'd be less able to fight off the disease, if they were exposed.
In fact, there was no link between exposure to known stressful events and low antibody levels. It was the participants' perception of stress that counted. Previous evidence suggests that such psychological influences are also at work when people have vaccines against hepatitis B, influenza and rubella.