Is a Flu Shot Safe When You Have Lupus?

Learn the Type of Influenza Vaccination That Is Right for People With Lupus

Most healthcare providers recommend that people who have lupus receive the flu vaccine every year, just like anyone else. If you have lupus, you could be at a higher than average risk of becoming sick with the flu, especially if you're not vaccinated. The flu vaccine is safe and effective for people who have lupus.

However, it might not provide as much protection for you due to your immune disease—so avoiding exposure is important, even after you get vaccinated. And live forms of the vaccine are not recommended if you have the flu.

As always, check with your practitioner before getting the vaccine.

Pharmacist giving customer flu shot
Terry Vine/Blend Images/Getty Images

Does the Flu Shot Cause Lupus Flares?

Lupus is an autoimmune disease characterized by excess inflammation and autoimmune attacks (your immune system attacks your own body). The flu vaccine produces an immune response, but there is no evidence that it triggers worsening of lupus or a lupus flare.

The flu shot is considered safe and effective for people with lupus. The shot can cause some side effects for people with or without lupus, and these side effects are not harmful to your body.

The most common side effects of flu shots are:

  • Swelling at the site of the injection
  • Muscle aches
  • Low-grade fever

Most people who have lupus will not experience unusual side effects from a flu shot.

How the Flu Shot Works

The vaccine is comprised of live or inactive (dead) influenza viruses. Your body produces an immune response to the virus that's in the vaccine. The immune response is expected to last so that your immune system will be able to quickly fight the virus without it making you very sick if you become exposed to it at a later time.

The immune response that your body makes in response to the vaccine can give you harmless side effects but it won't give you the flu.

The Right Flu Shot for People With Lupus

If you have lupus, you should get the traditional flu shot, not the nasal spray FluMist. The nasal spray contains active (live) virus. Lupus, as well as some of the medications that are used to treat lupus, can weaken your immune system and make you susceptible to becoming getting the flu from the live virus.

If you have lupus, you and the people with who you are in close contact should not take the live vaccine. That means that people who live with you should get the traditional shot too.

How You Can Protect Yourself From the Flu

Anyone who gets a flu vaccine should be careful about avoiding exposure to infections because vaccines are not 100% protective. If you have lupus, your immune system might be able to make a strong immune response to the vaccine and it may be less protective for you than it is for someone who doesn't have an immune problem.

To reduce your risk of getting the flu:

  • Get a flu shot every year.
  • Avoid close contact with sick people.
  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth during flu season.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated.

What to Do If You Get the Flu

People with lupus are at an increased risk of flu complications, so it's especially important for you to see your healthcare provider if you think you have the flu. Call your practitioner if you have flu symptoms, which can include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, fatigue, vomiting, or diarrhea.

Your medical professional can prescribe an antiviral medication, which may shorten your illness and/or make it less severe.

The medications used to treat the flu can reduce symptoms by about one day if started within 48 hours of your initial symptoms.

Keep in mind that antibiotics do not help against the flu.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Abdelahad M, Ta E, Kesselman MM, Demory Beckler M. A review of the efficacy of influenza vaccination in autoimmune disease patients. Cureus. 2021 May 13;13(5):e15016. doi:10.7759/cureus.15016

  2. Mathian A, Pha M, Amoura Z. Lupus and vaccinations. Curr Opin Rheumatol. 2018 Sep;30(5):465-470. doi:10.1097/BOR.0000000000000525

  3. Liao Z, Tang H, Xu X, Liang Y, Xiong Y, Ni J. Immunogenicity and safety of influenza vaccination in Systemic Lupus Erythematosus patients compared with healthy controls: a meta-analysisPLoS One. 2016;11(2):e0147856. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0147856

Additional Reading

By Jeri Jewett-Tennant, MPH
Jeri Jewett-Tennant, MPH, is a medical writer and program development manager at the Center for Reducing Health Disparities.