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Flu Risks for People with Arthritis and/or Rheumatic Disease

  • Published: 2009-10-19 (Revised/Updated 2018-03-16) : Author: CDC
  • Synopsis: People with certain types of arthritis or autoimmune rheumatic disease have a higher risk of getting flu-related complications.

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People with certain types of arthritis, called inflammatory or systemic arthritis or autoimmune rheumatic disease, have a higher risk of getting flu-related complications, such as pneumonia. Inflammatory arthritis affects the immune system which controls how well your body fights off infections.

Also, many medications given to treat inflammatory arthritis can weaken the immune system. People with weakened immune systems are at high risk for getting more severe illness and complications such as hospitalization with the flu. Rheumatoid arthritis and lupus are the most common types of inflammatory arthritis.

People with osteoarthritis, also called degenerative arthritis, are likely not at increased risk of complications from the flu unless they also have other high-risk conditions for flu such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease, or cancer.

If you have one of these types of inflammatory arthritis, you may be at high risk for complications from the flu. You should discuss your risk for complications from the flu with your healthcare provider.

Types of Inflammatory Arthritis:

If you are taking one or more of these medications for your arthritis, you may be at high risk for getting the flu or complications from the flu. Note: This list applies to medications that are ingested or injected and does NOT include medications that are applied to the skin such as creams and ointments. Your healthcare provider can clarify if the medications that you take weaken the immune system.

Arthritis medications that weaken the immune system:

What Are the Symptoms of the Flu?

The symptoms of 2009 H1N1 flu virus in people are similar to the symptoms of seasonal flu and include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, and fatigue. Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea. People may be infected with the flu, including 2009 H1N1, and have respiratory symptoms without a fever.

How can I avoid getting and the flu or giving the flu to others?

The flu is spread from person-to-person by coughing or sneezing by people with influenza. Sometimes people may become infected by touching something - such as a surface or object - with flu viruses on it and then touching their mouth or nose. You can take simple actions to protect yourself and others from getting the flu:

Is There a Vaccine Against H1N1 Flu Virus?

Do I Need to Get a Flu Shot?

The other type of flu vaccine "nasal-spray flu vaccine ( sometimes called LAIV for "live attenuated influenza vaccine ) is not currently approved for use in people with inflammatory arthritis. This vaccine is made with live, weakened flu viruses that do not cause the flu ). LAIV ( FluMistĀ® ) is approved for use in healthy people 2-49 years of age.

What Should I Do When I Am Sick?

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1 : Resurgence of Whooping Cough (Pertussis) in America : University of Georgia.
2 : FDA Statement Regarding Efforts to Improve Effectiveness of Influenza Vaccines : U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
3 : New SARS-like Virus WIV1-CoV May Cause Outbreak in Humans : University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
4 : Influenza: Symptoms of Severe Sepsis and Septic Shock : Mayo Clinic.
5 : Seasonal Flu: H3N2 Influenza : Public Health Agency of Canada.
From our Influenza Colds and Flu section - Full List (38 Items)


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