Is a Flu Shot Safe When You Have Lupus?

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

If you have lupus, you may be concerned that a flu shot may trigger a flare. Most doctors recommend that lupus patients receive the vaccine every year, just like anyone else. As always, check with your doctor before getting the vaccine.

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

Does the Flu Shot Cause Lupus Flares?

The flu vaccine produces an autoimmune response, so it's only natural to wonder if getting a flu shot will cause your lupus to flare up. In general, the flu shot is considered safe and effective in people with lupus.

Most people with lupus will not experience any side effects of a flu shot. If you do have side effects of your flu shot, they will probably be mild. The most common side effects of flu shots in people with lupus are:

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

The bottom line is that the benefits of preventing the flu are thought to far outweigh the risk of a flare.

How the Flu Shot Works

The vaccine is comprised of inactive (dead) influenza virus. Your body produces antibodies to the flu about two weeks after you are vaccinated.

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 and should not be taken by lupus patients or those in close contact with them. That means that people who live with you should get the traditional shot too.

How You Can Protect Yourself From the Flu

The flu prevention advice is the same whether or not you have lupus. 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 greater risk of flu complications, so it's especially important for you to see your doctor if you think you have the flu. Call your doctor 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 doctor can prescribe an antiviral medication, which may shorten your illness and/or make it less severe. (Antibiotics do not help against the flu.)

The medicine helps the most if you start it within 48 hours of getting sick, but it can be beneficial for you even if you start it later.

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  1. 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

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