Are flu and pneumonia vaccines safe if I have lupus?
When you have lupus, it is very important to know that you are at increased risk for infections, compared to the general population. This is true whether or not you are taking medications to suppress your overactive immune system, as the disease itself also increases the risk of infections. And if you do contract an infection, whether caused by a virus or bacteria, you may find that it takes you longer to recover than before your lupus diagnosis.
Seasonal Flu Vaccine
The influenza vaccine (flu shot) is a highly effective vaccine made from an inactivated (killed) virus. It is given once a year to people who are at risk for complications of influenza infection. About two weeks after vaccination, the body develops antibodies that provide protection against the influenza virus infection.
Although there is not good evidence, it is thought that a vaccine against a particular infectious agent (such as a germ, bacteria, or virus) could occasionally trigger an autoimmune disease flare. However, people with lupus generally do not have any side effects from the flu vaccine. When they do, their symptoms are usually mild, such as a few days of fever and muscle aches. Overall, the influenza vaccine is considered to be safe and effective for people with lupus, and it is recommended that they receive the flu vaccine every year.
The pneumonia vaccine is also recommended for people with lupus, and a second dose should be given five years after the first dose. This vaccine can help to prevent most (but not all) kinds of pneumonia.
Below are simple steps that people with lupus and their family members can take to lessen the likelihood of contracting influenza, pneumonia, and other contagious illnesses:
- Avoid anyone—including family members—who has symptoms of fever (over 100º F), nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. Specifically, you should avoid close, personal contact, such as hugging, kissing, and shaking hands.
- Wash your hands (tops, palms, and fingers) frequently with hot soapy water for at least 15 seconds.
- Remember that surfaces can retain the influenza virus —especially in bathrooms, on shared office equipment, in stores, and in restaurants. Keep alcohol-based gel or wipes handy, in public, at work, and home.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth. Germs spread this way.
- Use the crook of your arm to shield coughs and sneezing. Do not use your hands or handkerchiefs as they carry moisture that spread viruses.
- Stay home from work or school if you are sick.
- Finally, never stop taking the medications used to treat your lupus without first consulting with your doctor.
Medically reviewed on May 24, 2013Submit a Question to the Experts