It’s Not Too Late

I get a flu shot every fall, usually after a routine rheumatologist appointment. The VA medical center where I get my care offers them to all vets, and they keep them handy in all the clinics for their patients. It’s a quick little thing—just a roll-up of my sleeve, a chilly alcohol swab, a fast jab. It’s done and I’m out the door.

And hey, it doesn’t hurt. When the nurse gave me this year’s shot, back in early November, I only felt the alcohol swab. “You’re good!” I told her reverently, and we both had a laugh before I went on my way. (Of course, she’d had plenty of practice—I had to have been her 200th flu jab that week.)

And then I usually forget about it, unless it’s a flu-year like this one, when suddenly after the new year flu cases spike dramatically all over the country and the reports start showing up on the evening news. Here in California right now, cases of the flu are all over the place; it’s “widespread” here and in almost every other state in the Union.

“Widespread.” That means one of two things: either people are catching flu bugs that weren’t covered by this year’s vaccine, or a whole lot of people didn’t get a flu shot this year. I’m guessing it’s probably the latter.

Please go get the flu shot.

If you’re one of them, let me just say this: please, please go get the flu shot. It’s not too late. Call your primary care physician. Or check at a local pharmacy. I just googled: CVS, Walgreen’s, and Rite-Aid pharmacies all offer on-the-spot flu vaccines. Shots cost between $30 and $40; the prices are up this year, but it’s money well spent. You can also find places to get flu shots locally by clicking on the Flu Vaccine Finder app on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Flu webpage. In some communities, shots are available for free to seniors and other high-risk populations through the county health department, too.

Here’s why it’s so important to get a flu shot, even this late into the flu season (generally, the season starts in November and can last as late as May, peaking between December and March). If you’re reading this, you’ve probably got rheumatoid disease. That being the case, it’s likely that you’re taking drugs to treat the disease. Many of them—most DMARDs (Disease Modifying Anti-Rheumatic Drugs) and all biologics—can vastly lower your immune system’s ability to fight off infection—including infection by the influenza virus. That means your chances of picking up that nasty flu bug—and it appears to be particularly tough and virulent this year—are extremely high.

Catching the flu is miserable for anyone…

…but for people with weakened/compromised immune systems like so many of us with RD, it’s dangerous or even deadly. Flu is a respiratory illness that comes on fast and hits hard. According to the CDC, symptoms include:

  • Fever or feeling feverish/chills (important: not everyone will have a fever)
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Some people may have vomiting or diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.

Further, the CDC notes: Most people who get influenza will recover in several days to less than two weeks, but some people will develop complications as a result of the flu. A wide range of complications can be caused by influenza virus infection of the upper respiratory tract (nasal passages, throat) and lower respiratory tract (lungs). While anyone can get sick with flu and become severely ill, some people are more likely to experience severe flu illness. Young children, adults aged 65 years and older, pregnant women, and people with certain chronic medical conditions are among those groups of people who are at high risk of serious flu complications, possibly requiring hospitalization and sometimes resulting in death. For example, people with chronic lung disease are at higher risk of developing severe pneumonia.

Sinus and ear infections are examples of moderate complications from flu, while pneumonia is a serious flu complication that can result from either influenza virus infection alone or from co-infection of flu virus and bacteria. Other possible serious complications triggered by flu can include inflammation of the heart (myocarditis), brain (encephalitis) or muscle (myositis, rhabdomyolysis) tissues, and multi-organ failure (for example, respiratory and kidney failure). Flu virus infection of the respiratory tract can trigger an extreme inflammatory response in the body and can lead to sepsis, the body’s life-threatening response to infection. Flu also can make chronic medical problems worse. For example, people with asthma may experience asthma attacks while they have the flu, and people with chronic heart disease may experience a worsening of this condition triggered by flu.”

Am I trying to scare you into getting that flu shot? Yep, I am.

You can find out more about this year’s flu epidemic by visiting the CDC’s flu webpages.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The RheumatoidArthritis.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

Comments

View Comments (8)
  • Connie Rifenburg
    2 years ago

    It’s interesting that people are commenting about this year’s flu shot not working as well. My primary dr. told me that the flu showing up this yr was not in the mix of the flu shot, but he still said to get the shot since you COULD get any of the previous versions of flu instead of the newest bug and this yr’s flu shot would certainly reduce the worst of the symptoms.

    I didn’t have the pneumonia vac until about 3 yrs ago. Once again, my dr. finally convinced me to try it -because I had gotten pneumonia every year for the past 5 yrs and ended up the previous yr with double pneumonia. After that experience, I agreed and took my first pneumonia vax. Wow! was I surprised. I had my first year without pneumonia! I had the follow up vax next, and then a newer pneumonia vax that is a one time thing AFTER you take the first one.

    So until 2016, I didn’t get pneumonia. But after the pneumonia ‘extra’ shot this yr, I did get pneumonia. But reacted well to IV drugs and it only went into the lower lobe of one lung and I was out of the hospital in 2 days.

    So, I encourage anyone in this group, Take the flu shot, the pneumonia shot, but NOT the shingles shot. Why ? All of the other vaxes are dead, but the shingles isn’t. Compromised immune + live vaccine = BAD. I’ve had shingles – twice. Ouch ouch ouch ouch…. (here is the explanation: Zoster vaccine (Zostavax by Merck) was licensed on May 25, 2006. The zoster vaccine is a live, attenuated vaccine. This means the live, disease-producing virus was modi- fied, or weakened, in the laboratory to produce an organism that can grow and produce immunity in the body without causing illness.)

    And here’s the vax info on Flu: http://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/qa/flushot.htm
    Aug 25, 2016 – CDC recommends use of injectable influenza vaccines (including inactivated influenza vaccines and recombinant influenza vaccines) during 2016-2017.
    The nasal spray flu vaccine (live attenuated influenza vaccine or LAIV) should not be used during 2016-2017. … A high-dose trivalent shot, approved for people 65 and older.

    And last but not least – pneumonia vax: It’s extensive so here’s the website:
    http://www.adultvaccination.org/pneumococcal

    Hoping everyone here evades the flu this year.

  • 2 years ago

    Hi Wren,

    I appreciate your article, and you are right. Those of us who have a compromised immune system due to RA/RD drugs should consider a flu shot. But, I think we need to be as knowledgeable about vaccines as we can, so that we can make informed decisions about whether or not to receive vaccines.

    I’ve heard it said that there is no ‘Cold and Flu’ season, only a ‘low vitamin D season’. I used to get a flu shot every year. But, as I learn more about healthy living and supplements, I have acquired the opinion that (in most cases) we don’t really ‘need’ a flu shot. We just need to boost our Vitamin D and immune support as a replacement for the natural vitamin D that we get from the sun in the spring summer and fall months.

    You have to admit that it clearly seems that as soon as we are unable to go outside as much, the winter sicknesses come calling. This year, while taking supplements, which includes cannabis oil, (and no pharmaceutical RA treatments) I have watched everyone around me get everything from the stomach flu to a head cold. Me, I’ve stayed cold and flu free all year. In fact, I feel like I could eat an influenza sandwich and remain fine (And I’m 48 BTW).

    Here is a fact, as well. I have an uncle that was also in the military, and later rose to the higher ranks of the US Park service that received a flu shot in October about 2 1/2 years ago. Three weeks after receiving his yearly vaccine, he came down with CIPD (Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy). Somehow, his doctor was able to trace the CIPD back to the Flu vaccine. Later, he would receive some hefty compensation from what is called the ‘vaccine court’, which little people know about. (http://www.uscfc.uscourts.gov/vaccine-programoffice-special-masters).

    So, my point is that vaccines, including the flu vaccine, might not be as magical as we are all led to believe. Am I saying that all vaccines are bad? No. But, unfortunately, due to the fact that vaccine makers cannot filter certain bacteria out of the vaccine, it is my opinion that they do pose a risk. I’ve read that somewhere around 6% of vaccines have bacterial contaminants (mostly Mycoplasma). To me, this simply means that if it’s not absolutely necessary, don’t do it.

    However…If you are simply taking pharmaceutical treatments for RA, which often includes medication that lowers your immune response, the flu shot might be necessary. So, don’t take this as a suggestion that everyone stop taking the flu shot.

    My point is this:

    – Vaccines have helped eradicate several severe diseases.
    – Most people, I think, are not affected adversely by vaccines.
    – However, I fully believe that vaccines are not risk free and we need to be knowledgeable about these risks.
    – By living healthy, eating healthier and supplementing, we can actually avoid the need for these non-essential vaccines.

  • Lauren Tucker moderator
    2 years ago

    DessertStormTrooper,
    Thanks so much for sharing this insightful information with the community. While we encourage all our community members to consult with their Dr. about all their treatments as well as vaccines, you certainly have given us all some great information.
    Thanks for being part of our community.
    Best,
    Lauren (RheumatoidArthritis.net Team)

  • Karen
    2 years ago

    I get mine. Pretty much am told I have to get the jab. (lung stuff)
    This year it hurt when they jabbed me and for the next day my arm was sore.
    And, to top it all off, I got the flu.
    After the third day of a high fever I could not get to go down, I went to the doctor. Yep, The flu.
    Even with tamiflu it took almost two weeks to get over the coughing and the yuck.

    Maybe next year I should just say no.

  • cyndirn
    2 years ago

    Not wise for any of us. Is the flu shot 100% effective? No, but I will take my chances with less than 100% and a sore arm rather than die of the flu. Back when I was in my late 20’s and early 30’s I was (at that time) too young to take the shot and I contracted influenza 3 times. Back then I thought I would die, now at the age of 61 I know I would die if I caught the flu. And Tamiflu only works by shortening the number of days you are ill, and then only if you catch it in the very early stages (24-48 hours). There is simply no reason to skip the shot next year. Look at it this way, if you skip the shot there is almost a 100% chance you will catch the flu if we have a bad season.

  • Lauren Tucker moderator
    2 years ago

    Great point cyndirn. We hear you on the importance of getting the flu shot.

    I thought this article would resonate with you: https://rheumatoidarthritis.net/living/bracing-for-flu-season/
    We are glad you are so proactive on getting your flu shot thanks for sharing this with the community.

    Thanks for being part here!
    Warmly, Lauren (RheumatoidArthritis.net Team)

  • Lawrence 'rick' Phillips
    2 years ago

    Wren, I get mine (like I have for the last 20+ years) in the fall. It has been a God send for me. I suggest it whenever and however I can.

  • Wren moderator author
    2 years ago

    Hi, Rick!
    Smart guy! It really is an easy and painless way to ensure against a nasty bout of flu (at least, the types covered by the vaccine).
    Thanks for commenting! 🙂

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