Psoriatic Arthritis and the Flu

Psoriatic arthritis is a chronic autoimmune disease that causes inflammation in the joints. Psoriatic arthritis occurs alongside a skin condition called psoriasis which causes itchy red patches of skin. Roughly one-third of people with psoriasis develop psoriatic arthritis.

Psoriatic arthritis occurs due to a faulty immune response, in which the immune system wrongly attacks the joints and skin. The exact cause of psoriatic arthritis is unknown, but scientists believe that a combination of genetic and environmental factors are at play.

People with psoriatic arthritis are at increased risk during flu season. People with the condition often take certain medications that affect their immune system, which can make them more vulnerable to influenza. The flu can also cause flares of psoriatic arthritis symptoms.

Learn more about psoriatic arthritis and the flu.

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Medication and Immune System Effects

People with psoriatic arthritis often take a variety of medications to manage their condition, and some of these medications can make them more vulnerable to infections, including influenza.

Biologics are a type of drug that is sometimes prescribed to treat psoriatic arthritis. These drugs lower inflammation in the body to treat psoriatic arthritis symptoms, but they also suppress the immune system.

Using biologics weakens the body’s immune system and makes it harder for the body to fight off germs. During flu season, people taking biologics are at an increased risk of being infected with the influenza virus. If someone with psoriatic arthritis gets influenza, they might have to stop taking their medications until they get better.

Getting sick with the flu or another illness can also trigger a flare-up of psoriatic arthritis symptoms.

Flu Complications

People with psoriatic arthritis are also at a greater risk of flu-related complications if they get the virus because they have a suppressed immune system.

Complications of the flu that people with psoriatic arthritis might be more likely to develop include:

People with psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis are also at a higher risk of getting other respiratory infections and flu-related pneumonia.

How to Avoid the Flu

There are several ways that people with psoriatic arthritis can protect themselves and reduce their chances of getting sick during flu season.

Wash Your Hands Frequently

Frequent, proper handwashing can remove germs and help keep them from spreading. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises washing your hands with soap and water.

The steps of proper handwashing are:

  1. Wet your hands with clean running water from the tap.
  2. Apply soap.
  3. Lather the soap by rubbing your hands together.
  4. Make sure to get the soap on the backs of your hands, between fingers, and under your nails.
  5. Continue lathering for at least 20 seconds.
  6. Rinse your hands with water.
  7. Dry your hands completely.

If you are in a situation where you cannot wash your hands with soap and water, using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer is OK.

Get a Flu Shot

Getting a flu shot every year will help protect you against influenza, as well as reduce the risk of flu-related complications if you do get sick.

People with psoriatic arthritis should follow the CDC guidelines and get a flu shot by early October every year. People who live in the same house as someone with psoriatic arthritis or another high-risk condition should also be vaccinated.

People taking biologics and immunosuppressive medications can still get the flu shot, but it is recommended that they do not get a live flu vaccine in the form of a nasal spray (which should not be given to people who are immunocompromised).

The flu vaccine will not give you the flu. Research has also found that flu shots do not appear to directly trigger flares. If you are worried about having a flare-up after getting a vaccine, talk to your doctor.

Other Flu-Prevention Tips

Other steps you can take to avoid becoming infected with influenza include:

  • Avoid close contact with others (especially people who are sick).
  • Do not touch your nose, eyes, and mouth.
  • Disinfect surfaces in your home, at work, and at school.
  • Get regular exercise.
  • Get enough sleep.
  • Manage your stress levels.
  • Stay hydrated.
  • Eat a nutritious diet

If You Get the Flu

People with psoriatic arthritis who get influenza should speak with their doctor about the best way to manage their medications while they are sick.

In most cases, people with psoriatic arthritis who have the flu will need to stop taking their biologics while they are recovering from influenza.

A doctor can prescribe antiviral medications to treat flu illness. It is important that these drugs be started as soon as possible when a person that is immunocompromised—including someone with psoriatic arthritis—gets the flu.

When to See a Healthcare Provider

People with psoriatic arthritis should contact their doctor if they have flu-like symptoms. Their doctor will let them know if they should stop taking their regular medications, and they may prescribe antivirals to help them get better.

Summary

People living with psoriatic arthritis are at increased risk of getting influenza. They are also at risk for complications related to the flu, including pneumonia. Taking steps like regular handwashing and getting the flu shot will lower the risk of infection and serious flu illness.

A Word From Verywell

If you have psoriatic arthritis, you are at a higher risk of getting the flu and having flu-related complications. There are steps that you can take to protect yourself, such as getting a flu shot.

If you do have flu-like symptoms, it’s important to tell your doctor right away. If you do have the flu, you might need to stop taking your medications until you get better. Your doctor might be able to prescribe antivirals to help you get better sooner.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is psoriatic arthritis an autoimmune disease?

Yes. Psoriatic arthritis is a chronic autoimmune disease that is thought to be caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

Can you run a fever with psoriatic arthritis?

The symptoms of psoriatic arthritis vary, but some people may run a low-grade fever—particularly when they are having a flare. However, a fever can also be a sign of an infection or illness, such as the flu.

If you have a fever and other symptoms (such as a cough or a sore throat) or you have been around someone who is sick, let your doctor know.

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Article Sources
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