I have RA. Should I get a flu shot?

I’ve seen this question pop up all over the Internet these last several months. I’ve asked the question myself. But it was only today that I discovered, while perusing the weekly Centers for Disease Control (CDC) H1N1 Flu Update I get by email, that CDC now has instructions aimed specifically at those of us whose immune systems are suppressed by disease or medications, or both.

The answer? Yes. Absolutely get the H1N1 (swine) flu shot just as soon as it’s available through your rheumatologist or primary csymptoms_of_swine_flu_svgare physician. Get the normal, seasonal flu shot, too.You’re at a much higher risk for complications from either or both flu types.

However, do NOT get the type of vaccine that has the live virus in it. Only get the type with the dead virus. Be careful. Ask before you get jabbed. This is important, as your body might not be able to fight off the live virus and you could possibly get sick.

According to the CDC, “Medications that can weaken the immune system and increase the risk of influenza-related complications include corticosteroids, disease modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs), and biological response modifiers.” Lots of us who fight the day-by-day battle with rheuma take these medications. They help us battle the disease but leave our bodies far more vulnerable to infections, both viral and bacterial.

“Although the exact type and severity of immune dysfunction that correlates with risk of influenza-associated complications has not been well defined, patients with more severe immunosuppression are predisposed to serious complications such as prolonged or increased severity of illness,” states the CDC on its website.

If you have any of the following rheumatological diseases:
•Rheumatoid arthritis (RA)
•Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE)
•Psoriatic arthritis
•Anti-phospholipid syndrome
•Polymyalgia rheumatica
•Systemic sclerosis/scleroderma
•Sjögren’s syndrome
•Vasculitis (e.g., giant cell arteritis)
•Necrotising arteritis
•Polyarteritis nodosa
be sure to get both the seasonal and swine flu shots as soon as they’re available in your area.

H1N1 (swine) flu is widespread all over the United States now. Take precautionary measures to prevent yourself from catching or spreading the flu:

–Try to avoid contact with people who have the flu.
–Wash your hands frequently with soap and hot water, or with antibacterial gel.

Symptoms of the flu may include:
•fever *
•sore throat
•runny or stuffy nose
•body aches
•sometimes diarrhea and vomiting
*It’s important to note that not everyone with flu will have a fever.

If you develop flu-like symptoms:
•Contact your healthcare provider.
•Avoid contact with others. Seek medical care early. You should stay home and avoid travel, including not going to work or school, until at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or necessities. Your fever should be gone without using fever-reducing medications.
•If you leave the house to seek medical care, wear a facemask, if available and tolerable, and cover your coughs and sneezes with a tissue.
•Do not stop taking any medicine you take for your arthritis unless told to do so by your physician.
•Seek medical attention early. Treatment is available for persons with severe disease and those at high risk for complications. Persons with inflammatory rheumatic disease are considered high risk for complications from the flu; therefore, your health care provider may choose to prescribe antiviral medications for you if you get the flu.
•If you are exposed to someone who has flu, consult your health care provider.  They may prescribe medication to help prevent you from getting the flu or watch you closely to see if you develop flu symptoms.

Note: People with osteoarthritis are likely not at increased risk for influenza-related complications unless they also have another high risk condition such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease, or cancer.

For more information, visit the CDC website page specific to those with rheumatalogical diseases: http://www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/arthritis_clinicians.htm

For more general information about the H1N1 flu, visit http://www.cdc.gov/h1n1flu/general_info.htm

Here’s hoping that all of us stay strong and healthy throughout the 2009/10 flu season.