Three reasons not to skip your flu shot

Lupus Foundation of America

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The fact is: the flu is no fun. Fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, fatigue: Symptoms of the flu can include all of these--sometimes vomiting and diarrhea, too. Chances are, your rheumatologist and primary care physician have already reminded you about getting your annual flu shot. In general, rheumatologists advise that the benefits of receiving the flu shot greatly outweigh the potential risks of experiencing a flare. However, if you are pregnant or have had allergic reactions to these vaccines in the past, talk to your doctor before receiving one.

In case you haven’t had yours yet, or aren’t planning to get it, we want to give you some encouragement. We put together three reasons for being immunized against the flu this year—and every year.

Infections are one of the top causes of death for people with lupus. That’s why any steps you can take to avoid an infection are important.

Reason #1: Lupus increases your risk of infection

Influenza, or flu, is an infection, caused by the influenza virus; more accurately, several strains of the virus. People with lupus are at higher risk for infections than the general population. This is partly because of the immune suppressants that many people with lupus take, and partly due to a faulty immune system. 

Infections are one of the top causes of death for people with lupus. That’s why any steps you can take to avoid an infection are especially important. Plus, nothing starts a lupus flare quite as fast as an infection. And we know you want to avoid that as well.

The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) recommends an annual flu vaccine as the first and best way to protect against the flu. In addition, the CDC says that a flu vaccination may make your illness milder if you do get sick, as well as reducing the risk of hospitalization and death.

Reason #2: The flu shot from last year won’t protect you this year

The seasonal flu vaccine is designed to protect against the three or four influenza viruses that are most likely to spread and cause illness among people during the upcoming flu season. Flu viruses are constantly changing, so the vaccine composition is reviewed each year and updated as needed, based on which influenza viruses are making people sick, the extent to which those viruses are spreading, and how well the previous season’s vaccine protects against those viruses. More than 100 national influenza centers in more than 100 countries conduct year-round surveillance for influenza—receiving and testing thousands of influenza virus samples from patients. The laboratories send representative viruses to five World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborating Centers for Reference and Research on Influenza, which review the results and the availability of vaccine viruses, and make recommendations on the composition of the influenza vaccine.

Plus, a person’s immune protection from the vaccine declines over time. Even if the next year’s viruses were exactly the same, an annual flu shot will boost the immune response.

Reason #3: The benefits outweigh the risks

Life is full of benefit-risk decisions. Walking out your door each morning is one. Using a sharp knife in the kitchen is another. Overall, the flu shot is considered to be safe and effective for people with lupus; side effects, if any, tend to be mild—such as swelling of the arm at the site of the injection, low-grade fever, and/or muscle aches. And, while some studies have shown that the immunoprotection from some flu vaccine strains is not as strong for people with lupus as for the general population, nevertheless there is a protective effect. Furthermore, several recent studies found no increase in lupus flares following a flu shot.

There is a small percentage of those with lupus who should not get the flu vaccine; in particular, anyone who had a bad reaction to a previous flu vaccine. Guidance from your doctor and your own previous responses to vaccines should always be your primary considerations.