Flu shots not only provide protection against the flu, but they can help people with COPD prevent COPD exacerbation, a period of time when COPD symptoms worsen that can lead to hospitalization and possible premature death.
Repeated episodes of COPD exacerbation may cause lung function decline to progress more rapidly and may shorten COPD life expectancy. Exacerbations are the number one reason people with COPD seek emergency treatment and get admitted to the hospital. Because of the seriousness of an exacerbation, anything you can do to prevent an infection like the flu will go a long way toward keeping COPD under control.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends an annual flu shot for people with chronic medical conditions such as COPD. Additionally, the Global Initiative for Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD) advises that getting vaccinated against the flu and pneumonia viruses helps reduce the risk of acute exacerbation.
Quick Facts About the Flu Shot
The influenza vaccine, otherwise known as the flu shot, is an inactivated vaccine containing a killed virus. The shot is given through a needle, usually in your arm. About two weeks following the vaccine, your body will have produced enough antibodies to protect you against the flu.
When to Get Vaccinated
According to the CDC, the best time to get vaccinated is in October or November, but you can continue to get vaccinated in December, or even later during the year. Flu season usually begins in October and typically lasts into May.
Who Should Get Vaccinated?
The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months of age and older get vaccinated this season with a flu shot, but that it's particularly important to get vaccinated if you're prone to high-risk complications like pneumonia, if you get sick with the flu. Those likely to fall into this category include:
- People with chronic medical conditions, including COPD, asthma and diabetes.
- Women who are pregnant.
- People who are 65 years of age and older.
- People who live with, or who are caretakers for, other people who are at high risk for developing serious complications from the flu, including household contacts and caregivers of people with chronic medical conditions such as COPD, asthma and diabetes.
Who Shouldn't Get Vaccinated?
Consult your health care provider prior to getting a flu shot if you have any of the following:
- Severe allergy to chicken eggs
- If you've had a previous severe reaction to the flu shot
- If you developed Guillain-Barre Syndrome within 6 weeks of having a previous flu shot
- If you are presently ill with a fever
Types of Flu Vaccines
There are four different types of flu vaccines available. Discuss which one you should get with your primary care provider:
- A basic flu shot approved for people 6 months of age and older.
- A high-dose flu shot approved for people 65 years of age and older.
- An intradermal flu shot approved for people 18 to 64 years of age.
- A nasal spray flu vaccine approved for healthy people 2 years of age through 49 years of age who aren't pregnant.
Side Effects of the Flu Shot
Contrary to popular belief, you can't get the flu from getting a flu shot because it contains a killed virus. However, side effects from the shot often mimic flu-like symptoms and include:
- Redness, soreness and/or swelling at the injection site
- Low grade fever
- General malaise
Side effects from the flu vaccine can begin soon after the shot is given and are generally very mild. They usually subside after only a day or two.
Most people who receive a flu shot have no problems from it, however, as with any medication or vaccine, severe allergic reactions may occur. If you notice signs or symptoms of anaphylaxis (a severe, allergic reaction) seek immediate, emergency treatment.
Still unsure about getting a flu shot? Follow up with your primary care provider for more information.
Want more information about preventing or treating the flu? Watch the following, informative, About.com video for some helpful tips on cold and flu prevention:
Center for Disease Control and Prevention; "Key Facts About Seasonal Flu Vaccine" Updated 2012. http://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/keyfacts.htm
Global Strategy for the Diagnosis, Management and Prevention of COPD.Global Initiative for Chronic Obstructive Lung Disease (GOLD) 2011. Available from: http://www.goldcopd.org.