, Volume 35, Issue 4, pp 1479–1493 | Cite as

Chronic psychosocial stress: does it modulate immunity to the influenza vaccine in Hong Kong Chinese elderly caregivers?

  • Samuel Yeung Shan Wong
  • Chun Kwok Wong
  • Frank Wan Kin Chan
  • Paul K. S. Chan
  • Karry Ngai
  • Stewart Mercer
  • Jean Woo


Previous studies evaluated the effects of psychosocial stress on influenza vaccine responses. However, there were methodological limitations. This study aims to determine whether chronic stress is associated with poorer influenza-specific immune responses to influenza vaccines in Hong Kong Chinese elderly people. This is a prospective study with a 12-week follow-up. Subjects were recruited from government general out-patient clinics, non-government organizations, and public housing estates in Hong Kong. Participants include 55 caregivers of spouses with chronic conditions that impaired their activities of daily living and 61 age- and sex-matched non-caregivers. A single-dose trivalent influenza vaccine was given to all subjects by intramuscular ingestion. Blood samples were collected before vaccination, at 6 weeks, and at 12 weeks after vaccination. Influenza vaccine strain-specific antibody titers were measured by the hemagglutination inhibition method. Lymphocyte subsets were analyzed for ratios and absolute counts, and cytokine concentration were measured by flow cytometry. Validated scales were used to assess psychological (depressive symptoms, perceived stress, and caregiver strain), social (multidimensional social support scale), and lifestyle factors (physical exercise, cigarette smoking, and alcohol consumption) at baseline prior to vaccination. Demographic and socioeconomic variables were also collected. Albumin levels were measured as an indicator for nutritional status in subjects. Caregivers had statistically significant (p < 0.05) lower cell-mediated immune responses to influenza vaccination at 12 weeks when compared with those of the controls. No differences in humoral immune response to vaccination were observed between caregivers and controls. Hong Kong Chinese elderly who experience chronic stress have a significantly lower cell-mediated immune response to influenza vaccination when compared with non-caregivers.


Cohort studies Psychological stress Influenza vaccines Immunity Asian continental ancestry group 



Caregiver Strain Index

Influenza B



Geriatric Depression Scale-Short Form


A/New Caledonia/20/99






Hemagglutination inhibition


Multidimensional Scale of Perceived Social Support


Global Measure of Perceived Stress Scale



This study was supported by the Research Fund for Control of Infectious Diseases, Health and Welfare Bureau, Hong Kong SAR Government with grant 0505022. The vaccine strains were kindly provided by Masato Tashiro, National Institute of Infectious Diseases, Tokyo


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Copyright information

© American Aging Association 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Samuel Yeung Shan Wong
    • 1
    • 6
  • Chun Kwok Wong
    • 2
  • Frank Wan Kin Chan
    • 1
  • Paul K. S. Chan
    • 3
  • Karry Ngai
    • 3
  • Stewart Mercer
    • 4
  • Jean Woo
    • 5
  1. 1.The School of Public Health and Primary CareThe Chinese University of Hong KongShatinHong Kong
  2. 2.Department of Chemical PathologyThe Chinese University of Hong KongShatinHong Kong
  3. 3.Department of MicrobiologyThe Chinese University of Hong KongShatinHong Kong
  4. 4.General Practice and Primary Care, Institute of Health and WellbeingThe University of GlasgowGlasgowUK
  5. 5.Department of Medicine and TherapeuticsThe Chinese University of Hong KongShatinHong Kong
  6. 6.4/F, School of Public Health, Prince of Wales HospitalShatinHong Kong

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