Do Flu Shots Cause Lupus Flares?
Question of the day: Dr. Thomas, I have lupus and was told by another lupus patient that she gets a flare when she gets a flu shot. Do flu shots cause lupus flares? - JP
ANSWER: "No and Yes; in that order"
Fortunately, the vast majority of systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) patients do not get a flare after getting the flu shot. A recent study showed that only 32 SLE patients out of 1966 (1.6%) who got the flu shot (influenza vaccine) had flares from their SLE, and all were mild. I have never had a patient get a severe flare from the flu shot over 30 years. I had one severe flare from Pneumovax, though.
Now the really interesting thing about this study is as follows... it would be very easy to conclude "the flu shot must cause flares in 1.6% of SLE patients." However, that is not true. Imagine studying 1966 SLE patients even for just a very short period of time. I find it amazing that only 32 out of 1966 would flare. You'd expect more of them to flare during the study period simply because that is what lupus likes to do.
Compared to healthy controls, they responded very well to the vaccine as far as it protecting them from the flu.
It is flu season. Please get your flu shot. Especially with COVID-19, we do not want a one-two punch!
NOTE: The Centers for Disease Control recommends getting the flu shot BEFORE the end of October.
(Many people misinterpret this as they should get it in October). Their only warning about this is that elderly vaccine recipients may have the vaccine response be a little weaker at the end of the flu season if they get it in July or August. Otherwise, it is best to get it as soon as it is available to help decrease community spread.
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Click the COMMENTS button above regarding your experience with the flu shot when you have lupus. Would love to hear from people who have had no problems at all and those who have.
- by Don Thomas, MD, FACP, FACR