Living well with lupus

Am I at increased risk for infections?

When you have lupus, you are at increased risk for all kinds of infections. There are two main reasons for this higher risk. First, lupus itself can make infections occur more often: the way lupus affects the immune system can sometimes limit the body’s ability to fight off foreign invaders, such as bacteria and viruses. Second, people with lupus often take immunosuppressive medicines to control their overactive immune system. These drugs limit the ability of the body’s immune system to respond, and can leave a person more open to infectious agents.

The most common infections seen with lupus involve the respiratory system (lungs and heart), the skin, and the urinary tract. You are also at an unusually high risk for developing Candida (yeast) infections and shingles (the same viral infection as chicken pox).

These types of infections tend to last longer and so require a longer period of treatment with antibiotics. Sulfa antibiotics, a class of drugs commonly used to treat infections, should be used very carefully to treat infections in anyone with lupus because these drugs can increase sensitivity to light and skin rashes, and can lower white blood cell counts.

You should do your best to avoid anyone who has a cold or other contagious condition. During cold and flu season, wash your hands often to cut down transmission of infectious germs. Also, talk to your dentist and surgeon about preventive antibiotics before you have dental work or other surgery.

Sometimes what appears to be an infection -- with fever and inflammation -- may not be an infection, but a lupus flare. Therefore it is very important to check with your doctor if any sign of an infection appears.

If you have a fever of 100 degrees Fahrenheit (F) or higher, you should contact your doctor promptly, as a fever can be a warning sign of a lupus flare or an underlying infection. A high fever can be especially serious if you are taking corticosteroids or chemotherapy drugs.

Medically reviewed on July 08, 2013

Submit a Question to the Experts