Flu 101: Vital Qs & As about the flu
It is important to take preventative measures to protect yourself against the flu. Those with lupus are at increased risk for infections (including the flu); so, for most people, getting a flu shot should be a top priority.
What is the flu vaccine?
The flu vaccine is made to protect individuals against the most common influenza viruses that are predicted for that particular season. The vaccine usually protects individuals against the top three or four influenza viruses that experts predict will be the most common for the upcoming year. Scientists then use one or two of the influenza viruses of each kind to develop that season’s vaccine. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for the antibodies to develop in your body to provide protection.
When is the typical flu season and when should I receive the shot?
The typical flu season can start as early as October and can last as late as May. Usually the peak activity in the United States is in January or February.
The CDC recommends that people receive the vaccine as soon as they become available (you can speak with your physician or pharmacist to determine when the vaccines are available). Health care providers usually start to readily offer the vaccine around October. October is the ideal time for vaccination to ensure that as many people as possible are protected prior to the beginning of the flu season. However, vaccination against the flu may start earlier if supply is available and to ensure the protection of more vulnerable populations (i.e. infants and the elderly).
Who should get the flu shot?
The flu vaccine is recommended for all persons aged 6 months and older who do not have contraindications (a condition which makes the shot potentially inadvisable). Generally, the flu shot is considered to be safe and effective for people with lupus. You can learn more about specific contraindications at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website. If you have ever had an abnormal reaction to a flu shot, or have doubts about taking the vaccine, talk to your rheumatologist, before getting the shot. Read more about the safety of the flu vaccine in people with lupus.
Why is it important for those with lupus to get the flu shot?
Those with lupus are at increased risk for developing infections. There are several reasons for this: The first being that the way lupus affects the immune system can negatively impact the way your body fights off foreign invaders, such as bacteria and viruses that can make you sick. In addition, many people with lupus take certain medications that can lower the body’s ability to fight off potentially infectious agents, or foreign invaders. These drugs, known as immunosuppressive medicines, help to control the overactive immune system in lupus. However, in doings so; they limit the body’s immune response and can leave the individual open to foreign invaders. Therefore, it is important that those with lupus take all necessary precautions, such as, receiving a flu shot.
Why do I have to get a new flu shot every year?
Flu viruses change all the time (this is called drift) - they can change from one season to the next and even change within one season. In addition, studies have shown that the body’s immunity to influenza viruses declines over time. There are several reasons as to why there is a decline in antibodies, which include: age and an individual’s overall general health. Thus, it is important to receive a yearly flu shot to make sure that you are always protected.
Do I have to get a shot?
The flu vaccine can be delivered in several different ways. The vaccine can be administered as a shot in the muscle or skin, or through a nasal spray. However, the live-attenuated vaccine (nasal spray) is not recommended for (immunosuppressed) individuals with a weakened immune system and thus, not recommended for patients with lupus.
The conversation about the yearly flu vaccination should start earlier rather than later. Please speak with your physician now about the availability of the yearly flu vaccine.
Should I get the flu shot or take the nasal form of the vaccine?
Get the flu shot, not the nasal spray. The flu vaccine can be delivered in several different ways. Several different manufacturers produce the flu vaccine, which can be administered as an intramuscular (IM), intradermal shot or through a nasal spray. Counter to a common misconception, a shot form of the virus (a dead form of the virus) will not lead an individual to develop the flu. If you have further questions, you should consult your physician. The nasal spray contains a live-attenuated form of influenza (a live, but weakened form of the influenza virus) and is not recommended for immunosuppressed individuals and thus, not recommended for patients with lupus.
Are there different recommendations for children?
The new recommendations for children aged 6 months to 8 years states that 2 doses of the influenza vaccine are required to be administered at least 4 weeks apart. The first dose of the vaccine will be administered as soon as it is available and then the second dose will be administered at least 4 weeks later. You can ask your child’s doctor for more information.
People with lupus should receive the yearly flu vaccine and should start speaking with their physician early in the season. Please speak with your physician now about the availability of the yearly flu vaccine.
Sarah Stothers, RN, BS
Nurse Health Educator
National nurse health educator for the Lupus Foundation of America. Read Bio