Is the influenza vaccine, also known as the flu shot, safe for people with PF? This is a common question for PF patients, especially in the winter when the amount of flu cases is known to increase throughout the nation.

According to the CDC, the flu vaccine is both safe and highly recommended for people with chronic health conditions like PF. Medicare and other health insurance plans cover the flu shot. To better understand the flu vaccine, it’s helpful to understand the influenza, or flu, virus itself. 

The flu is a severe viral respiratory illness, with multiple types of the virus developing and spreading each year. Flu symptoms can include:

  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Stuffy nose
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Cold sweats
  • Body aches
  • Headaches
  • Exhaustion
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

In the United States, “flu season” typically peaks in February, so this is an important time for protecting yourself and others from the flu. Most people can heal from the flu without any long-term difficulties; however, people who are immunocompromised – including people with PF – are much more vulnerable to hospitalizations and lasting medical issues from the flu. The CDC lists the factors that can increase a person’s risk of developing a serious complication from the flu here

Why do more people get the flu in the winter? There are several potential explanations for why the flu is so common this time of year: 

  1. The influenza virus is airborne, and it survives best in cold or dry climates. In other words, it can infect more people due to the cold winter weather. This makes the flu quite common throughout the winter months. 
  2. In the winter, people tend to spend more time inside, in spaces with little to no airflow. With the windows closed and multiple people sharing the same space, it’s more likely for one person to breathe the same air as someone else who may already have the flu. 
  3. Many aspects of people’s lifestyle can change in the winter, including their nutrition, fitness, mental health, and more. For example, you might be getting exposed to less sunlight, which means you’ll have lower levels of Vitamin D than usual. Or, you might be exercising less frequently because you can’t go on walks outside as easily. Any of these changes or stressors can impact your immune system’s ability to successfully fight off infections like the flu. 

How can people protect themselves from getting or spreading the flu? 

To start, standard health practices – such as washing your hands, covering your mouth and nose while coughing or sneezing, and social distancing from others who are sick – are essential.

Additionally, many doctors recommend that their patients receive a flu vaccine each year. As the CDC clarifies, this includes people with lung diseases like PF. 

The flu shot basically prepares people’s immune systems for potential exposure to the virus in the future. It helps their body make antibodies that can recognize and effectively fight off multiple strains of the virus. 

Ultimately, it is up to you to determine how to manage your health this winter. Please speak with your health care team to determine which safety measures will best protect you and those around you. 

To learn more about lung health and resilience in the wintertime, please join our community forum. You can also be the first to see new articles throughout this Special Education Week by following our Facebook page.

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