Lupus and the Flu Shot: What you need to know
The flu vaccine is the best way to protect individuals against the top influenza viruses that experts predict will be the most common and problematic for the upcoming year. Getting a flu shot can reduce flu illnesses, prevent flu-related hospitalizations, and protect people who have compromised immune systems that are more vulnerable to flu complications.
If you have lupus, you should strongly consider speaking to your doctor about getting a seasonal flu vaccine. In this blog we hope to answer any questions regarding this particular type of vaccination and calm any fears associated with it.
What exactly is influenza?
Influenza, or the ‘flu’ is a contagious disease that is most active every year typically between October and May. The flu is caused by influenza viruses and is spread primarily by coughing, sneezing, and other forms of close contact. Back to top
What are the updates with the flu shot this year?
The CDC have a few updates for the 2016-2017 Flu Shot Season:
- Flu vaccines have been updated to better match circulating viruses.
- Only injectable flu shots are recommended this season.
- The recommendations for vaccinations of people with egg allergies have changed.
- There will be some new vaccines on the market this season.
- Note: Studies have raised concerns about the effectiveness of the “live attenuated nasal vaccine” also known as FluMist or the nasal spray. Thankfully, the nasal spray flu vaccine will not be recommended by the CDC for the 2016-2017 year.
Who gets the flu and who should get the flu shot?
Anyone can get the flu virus. While the risk is highest among children, the elderly and those with compromised immune systems are also more susceptible. The following high risk groups can get much sicker than others with the same virus and should absolutely get the vaccine:
- Infants and children younger than five but especially those younger than 2 years of age
- Women who will be pregnant during flu season
- Caregivers of children under the age of 5 but especially infants younger than 6 months of age (as they are too young to receive the flu vaccine.) To learn more about why all children should receive the flu vaccine, watch CDC’s video Children Lost to the Flu . You may also want to visit the Families Fighting Flu website.
- Anyone with any condition that weakens the immune system, or those with chronic heart or lung conditions
- Those who live in nursing homes
- Anyone 65 years or older
- Anyone who comes in close contact with people in the high risk groups, i.e. healthcare workers, family members, babysitters, etc.
Why is it so important for those with lupus to get the flu shot?
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), approximately 200,000 people are hospitalized each year due to the flu. Somewhere between 20,000-50,000 Americans die each year from complications of influenza. Most of the fatalities occur in the elderly, infants, and the immunosuppressed (those who have weakened immune systems). Flu can also lead to pneumonia, and make existing medical conditions worse. A pneumonia vaccine (called prevnar 13) is also available and recommended for lupus patients. This is given as a shot and should be followed by a second dose five years after the first dose. Those with the autoimmune disease lupus, are also at an increased risk for developing infections because the immune system in lupus patients negatively affects the way the body fights off foreign invaders like viruses and bacteria. Many lupus patients take immunosuppressive medications to help control an overactive immune system. These medications can reduce the ability of the body to fight off foreign invaders such as the flu virus. This is why lupus patients should do everything possible to lower their chances of contracting the influenza virus. Back to top
I got the flu shot last year, do I need to get it this year as well?
The answer is yes. Because flu viruses change every year, and even between seasons, it is very important to get the vaccine every year to insure that you are protected from the various strains. The CDC suggests that every person should get a flu shot yearly by the end of October to maximize their protection.
How long does it take for the vaccine to take effect?
It takes about 2 weeks for protection to develop after the vaccination, and protection lasts several months to a year. So it is possible to get sick with the flu even after you have been vaccinated if: you may have been exposed to a flu virus shortly before getting vaccinated.
Are there any reasons that I should NOT get the flu vaccine?
Here are three reasons that someone might not want to get the flu shot. Please discuss these with your physician if you have any concerns.
- If you have any severe, life-threatening allergies: If you have ever had a life-threatening allergic reaction after a dose of flu vaccine, or have a severe allergy to any part of this vaccine. Most, but not all types of flu vaccine contain a small amount of egg protein. If, for example, you have an allergy to gelatin, antibiotics, or eggs, you may be advised not to get vaccinated. The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology says the vaccine contains such a low amount of egg protein that it’s unlikely to cause an allergic reaction in those with an egg allergy. If, on the other hand, you have severe egg allergy (anaphylaxis), please speak with your physician before getting the flu shot to learn about other options.
- If you ever had Guillain-Barré Syndrome (a severe paralyzing illness, also called GBS): Some people with a history of GBS should not get this vaccine. If you are not sure about this or know you have had GBS, please discuss the flu shot with your doctor before receiving the vaccine.
- If you are not feeling well: It is usually okay to get flu vaccine when you have a mild illness, but you may be advised to wait and come back for the vaccine later if you have a fever.
Are there any side effects of the vaccine?
There are possible side effects from the flu shot, however, the benefits of getting the vaccine outweigh the risks. Serious side effects are very rare, but if they do occur, it is usually within a few minutes to a few hours after the vaccine was given. Side effects can include:
- Some experience redness, soreness, or swelling at the injection site.
- Mild muscle aches
- Low-grade fever
What are the symptoms of the flu?
- runny or stuffy nose
- sore throat
- muscle aches
What should I do if I think I might have the flu?
Antiviral medications should be taken within 48 hours, especially for those who are most at risk for complications. Please call your physician immediately if you start to feel sick or are having any of the above listed symptoms. It is very important to wait for at least 24 hours after your temperature has returned to normal (98.6) before returning to work, school, or traveling to avoid spreading the illness to others. Back to top
Where can I get the flu shot?
The flu season begins around October and can continue until as late as May, but it peaks in January or February. It is best to get the vaccine as soon as it is available in your area, but it is not too late in December, January or beyond. To find the nearest location for receiving a flu shot in your area, please visit flu.gov. Many neighborhood pharmacies such as Rite Aid, Walgreens, Safeway, CVS, etc. offer easy and convenient locations to get the flu shot from a certified immunizing pharmacist without needing an appointment or referral from a physician.
Please speak with your physician sooner than later about getting your seasonal flu shot. It’s not worth the risk if you have a compromised immune system from a disease like lupus. In fact, why not give them a call today?
“Get an influenza vaccination yearly in the Fall!” – Dr. Thomas
Updated November 2016 by: Kelli Roseta
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