Flu Vaccine for PAH Patients

PAH patient with cold or flu virusIt is hard to believe that summer is almost over and fall is about to begin.  As kids get ready to go back to school we are reminded that it is time, once again, to think about getting the flu (influenza) vaccine. I know, this feels like setting out Christmas decorations before Halloween, but it is important for Pulmonary Hypertension patients to get the vaccine prior to the flu hitting town.

I have PAH. Do I need the Flu Vaccine?

YES.  All PAH patients should get the flu vaccine.  PAH patients have limited blood flow through their lungs causing shortness of breath and decreased oxygenation through other vital organs.  The right side of the heart is under stress as it pumps against the increased pressures in the lungs and patients often are in some degree of heart failure. Getting the flu on top of this can lead to life-threatening complications.

The flu virus can cause increased shortness of breath, fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, fatigue, headache, and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea.  Patients with pulmonary arterial hypertension are less able to handle the stress of even mild influenza.  The virus can also cause inflammation within the body adding stress to internal organs such as the heart and kidneys, which can lead to worsening heart failure.  Vomiting and diarrhea make it very difficult for PAH patients to keep down their medications. Missed doses of medications can lead to worsening PAH.  The flu can lead to hospitalization and in severe cases death.

Will Getting the Flu Vaccine Cause Me To Get The Flu?

It is a common misconception that the flu vaccine is made with live flu virus and therefore can lead to the flu.  The injected vaccine is not made from an active flu virus.  It can cause side effects such as pain and swelling at the injection site, a low grade fever and some mild body aches but it does not cause the flu.

I Had The Flu Vaccine Last Year.  Do I Really Need It Again?

Yes, it is important to get the flu vaccination every year. There are different strains of the flu virus and the flu vaccine is changed almost every year to address the specific strains the CDC thinks will be active.  Even if the same vaccine is offered against the same strains the immunity your body creates from receiving the vaccine declines over the year. Every pulmonary hypertension patient should ask their physician about receiving the flu shot every year.

Where Do I Get The Flu Vaccine?

The flu vaccine is available at most Pulmonary Hypertension Centers, primary care physicians and retail pharmacies.  Make sure to ask your provider when they will be getting the flu vaccine. If you are going to the office specifically for the flu vaccine, make sure to call ahead and confirm that they have it available before making the trip.

What Do I Do If I Had The Flu Vaccine but Feel Like I Am Getting The Flu?

The flu vaccine does not protect against all strains of the flu or other respiratory viruses that have some of the same symptoms as the flu.  It is important to notify your physician immediately if you have any of the symptoms of the flu that were listed above.  There are now some effective treatments that can shorten the length of the flu if given early.