Why People Who Have COPD Need to Get an Annual Flu Shot

  • If you have COPD, or you care for someone who does,  you need to know how important it is to get an annual flu shot. The flu season is about to kick off and you (or your loved one) are definitely at risk. Keep reading to find out why.


    Everyone, age 6 months and older, is recommended to get an annual flu shot. But some people need it more than others, and that includes people who have COPD... and people who care for those who have COPD.


    Why People With COPD Are at High Risk During Flu Season


    Most people who get the flu will have a fairly mild illness and rarely will need extensive medical care or antiviral drugs. And chances are they will get better in a week or two. But people who have chronic health conditions, especially respiratory conditions like COPD, are more likely to get serious flu complications, such as pneumonia and bronchitis. These complications can cause you to be hospitalized and occasionally even result in death. 

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    The flu can also make chronic health problems worse. In other words, you may have a flare-up of your COPD and find it is not responding to your medications or oxygen as effectively.


    An added risk factor for flu complications is being age 65 or older, which many people with COPD are.


    How Flu Vaccines Work


    Flu vaccines are made from actual flu viruses that have been killed, but that will still cause antibodies to develop in your body against the flu. This takes about two weeks after vaccination to reach full effect. These antibodies provide protection against infection with the specific flu viruses that are in the flu shot you get.


    The seasonal flu vaccine each year protects against the influenza viruses that research suggests will be most common during the upcoming flu season. Most flu vaccines protect against three or four different flu viruses.


    Your Flu Vaccine Options


    There are a few different options for the flu vaccine each year. They vary by:

    • how they are produced (for example, using eggs or not)
    • how many viruses they protect against (three vs. four)
    • whether they are standard dose or high dose
    • how they are given (shot vs. nasal spray)

    There is no one option that is necessarily better than others. However, people with COPD will not be able to get the flu vaccine in the nasal spray form. The nasal spray, because it is made from extremely weakened, but not killed, viruses is not recommended for people with chronic health conditions or for those older than age 49. Talk with your doctor about the best option for you.


    When to Get Your Flu Vaccine


    You should start thinking about getting a flu vaccine as soon as possible. Although it is rare for flu viruses to be circulating this early in the flu season, it won't be long before the peak infection time is upon us. So, take steps now to get your flu shot. That way, your body will have plenty of time to build up the antibodies and provide you with full protection.


    Where to Get a Flu Shot


    Most people who have COPD will be under the care of a physician and probably will have an office visit scheduled some time during the fall, when flu shots are usually given. This may be your easiest and most economical solution.


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    However, flu shots are available at many other locations, including:

    • Local stand-alone pharmacies or pharmacies within grocery stores or big box stores
    • Local health clinics
    • Urgent care centers
    • Your school or workplace

    Your health insurance may cover the cost at one of these community locations, but if not, you should be able to get a flu shot for $25 or less. Isn't your good health worth that small amount?


    You can use this site to locate a flu shot provider near you: http://flushot.healthmap.org


    What to Do If You Still Get the Flu


    Unfortunately, flu vaccine effectiveness can vary from year to year and among different age and risk groups. The ability of flu vaccine to protect a person depends on various factors:

    • age and health status of the person being vaccinated
    • the similarity or “match” between the viruses used to make the vaccine and those circulating in the community

    Experts can't predict with absolute certainty what viruses will be circulating in the future. Most years, though, they are pretty successful at doing so!


    However, it’s important to remember that even when the viruses do not end up being closely matched, the vaccine can still protect you and prevent flu-related complications. This is possible because antibodies made in response to the vaccine can still provide cross-protection against different but related flu viruses.


    So, if you DO still get the flu even after getting a flu shot, your first step is to call the doctor as soon as you notice any flu symptoms, such as:

    • Fever or feeling feverish/chills
    • Cough
    • Sore throat
    • Runny or stuffy nose
    • Muscle or body aches
    • Headaches
    • Fatigue (tiredness)

    Children may also have nausea and vomiting, but those symptoms are rare in adults who have the flu.


    If you do get the flu and you are examined by your doctor in a timely manner, there may be antiviral medicine that can greatly reduce the severity of your symptoms and speed your healing. Your doctor may also need to adjust your COPD treatment plan until you recover from the flu.


    In Summary


    Everyone needs to get a flu shot each year if they want to have the best chance of staying healthy during flu season. But this is especially important if you have COPD. Be proactive and get your flu shot today!

Published On: October 23, 2014