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Johns Hopkins Health Alert

Rheumatoid Arthritis and the Flu Shot

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Is it safe for you to get a flu shot even though you have rheumatoid arthritis? Read on to find out what Johns Hopkins recommends …

Q. I heard that it's not safe to get vaccines if you have rheumatoid arthritis. Does that mean I should not get a flu shot?

A. No. Flu shots are especially important for people with rheumatoid arthritis because the immunosuppressive drugs used to treat rheumatoid arthritis can increase the risk of getting the flu and also slow recovery from flu in those who get it.

A vaccine deliberately exposes a person to an infectious substance so the immune system will create antibodies to ward off infection. Some vaccines are made from live viruses, and in people whose immune systems are compromised, such vaccines carry a small risk of causing the disease that the vaccine is designed to protect against.

Fortunately, the injectable form of the flu vaccine is made with a killed flu virus and so is not dangerous for people with compromised immune systems. People with rheumatoid arthritis should avoid the FluMist nasal vaccine, however, which contains a live virus.

For the flu shot to work effectively, you should be vaccinated when your rheumatoid arthritis is well controlled with low-dose medications only (or no drugs at all). This is be- cause high doses of immunosuppressive drugs -- for example, more than 20 mg a day of prednisone -- inhibit the body's ability to produce protective antibodies in response to vaccination. However, a recent study found that adalimumab (Humira) does not reduce the protective effect of a flu shot.

Posted in Arthritis on October 10, 2010


Medical Disclaimer: This information is not intended to substitute for the advice of a physician. Click here for additional information: Johns Hopkins Health Alerts Disclaimer


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Health Alerts registered users may post comments and share experiences here at their own discretion. We regret that questions on individual health concerns to the Johns Hopkins editors cannot be answered in this space.

The views expressed here do not constitute medical advice, and do not represent the position of Johns Hopkins Medicine or Remedy Health Media, LLC, which has no responsibility for any comments posted on this site.


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