Each year as flu season approaches, fibromyalgia and myalgic encephalopathy/chronic fatigue syndrome patients ask me if they should get a flu shot. Since no research has been done on the subject, there is no clear-cut answer to that question. While most conventional doctors recommend flu vaccinations across the board, many FM and ME/CFS specialists advise their patients against getting the shot.
Because of reports of severe relapses following immunization, Charles Lapp, MD, Director of the Hunter-Hopkins Center in Charlotte, NC, generally does not recommend flu shots for his fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome patients. There are, however, two exceptions:
- Patients who have taken flu vaccinations in the past and tolerated them well.
- Patients who have a serious chronic illness (such as emphysema, diabetes or heart disease) in addition to FM or ME/CFS.
Charles Shepherd, MD, a U.K. doctor who is a member of the Chief Medical Officer’s Working Group on CFS/ME at the U.K. Department of Health, agrees with Dr. Lapp. He has found that a substantial percentage of his ME/CFS patients have mild-to-moderate relapses after receiving flu vaccinations. On the other hand, some doctors feel the benefits outweigh the risks because the effects of the flu on FM and ME/CFS patients can be severe and long lasting.
Another factor to consider is your exposure level. If you’re largely homebound and have limited contact with other people, your risk of exposure to the flu will be minimal. On the other hand, if you have school-age children who are bringing home every germ and bug imaginable, then your likelihood of catching the flu will be very high.
So should you get a flu shot? Only you and your doctor can make that decision. Your personal medical history, current health condition and level of probable exposure all have to be taken into consideration. In the end, you have to decide whether you feel the risks outweigh the benefits or vice versa.
If You Get the Flu
If you decide not to take the flu vaccination, there are antiviral medications available should you catch the flu. These should be taken within 72 hours of onset in order to reduce the severity and length of the illness.
- Symmetrel (amantidine) – antiviral
- Flumadene (ramantidine) – antiviral
- Relenza (an inhaler) – antiviral
- Tamiflu – antiviral