To get a flu shot or not to get a flu shot – that’s the question FM and ME/CFS patients face each fall. If we take the shot, we risk triggering an FM flare or an ME/CFS relapse. But if we don’t take the shot and get the flu, the effects can be severe and long-lasting. What’s a patient to do?
Weighing the Risks
Charles Lapp, MD - director of the Hunter-Hopkins Center for ME/CFS/FM in Charlotte, NC - says that as a general rule he does not recommend flu shots for his patients. With two notable exceptions:
1. Patients who have taken flu vaccinations in the past and tolerated them well.
2. Patients who have a serious chronic illness (such as emphysema, diabetes or heart disease) in addition to FM or ME/CFS.
According to Dr. Lapp, in addition to the fact that some ME/CFS/FM patients relapse after receiving flu shots, many do not develop antibodies to the vaccination. So not only might you experience a relapse, but you might not even develop immunity to the influenza virus.
When weighing the risks, you also have to take into account how likely you are to be exposed to the flu. If you work in the medical field or in a school, or do much traveling, you’re at much greater risk of catching the flu than if you are at home most of the time and have limited contact with the public. When all is said and done, you and your doctor will have to decide whether the risks outweigh the benefits, or vice versa.
Whether or not you decide to get a flu shot, it’s especially important this time of year to take extra precautions to prevent not only the flu, but also colds and other bugs. The recommendations for preventing the flu are the same as for preventing a cold:
1. Wash your hands frequently. The first thing you should do when you arrive home is wash your hands with soap and water, particularly if you have been out in public. This should become your ritual, and I think it is the single most important thing patients can do to improve their health. Ask family members and guests to do the same, and they will respect you for it. Your house is your sanctuary, and you need to keep it virus free.
2. Cold and flu viruses enter your body through your eyes, nose and mouth, so never touch your hands to your face - unless they’re sparkling clean.
3. Flu viruses make their way into your house by way of items that you have touched while you were out in public, including your cell phone and keys. Prevent this from happening by wiping these items down with a sanitizing hand wipe, such as those made by CloroxR and LysolR. It takes only 30 seconds, and this ounce of prevention is worth many pounds of cure.
4. Central heating dries you out and makes you more susceptible to cold and flu viruses, so it’s important to drink lots of water and get plenty of fresh air to keep your body hydrated.
What If I Get the Flu Anyway?
Should you get the flu, there are antiviral medications available to help shorten the time and reduce the severity of it, but they need to be taken within 72 hours of onset. Antivirals include:
SymmetrelR (amantidine) – 100 mg twice a day for 5 days, for influenza A
FlumadeneR (ramantidine) - 100 mg twice a day for 5 days, for influenza A
RelenzaR (zanamivir, an inhaler) - 2 puffs twice a day for 5 days, for influenza A or B
TamifluR (oseltamivir phosphate) - One tab twice a day for 5 days, for influenza A or B
Dr. Lapp prefers Tamiflu and Relenza because some flu strains have developed a resistance to the other antivirals.
In addition to the antivirals, there are also homeopathic remedies available, such as OscillococcinumR (o-sill-o-cox-see-num), which has been shown in clinical studies to reduce the duration of flu symptoms. Oscillococcinum can be purchased at most drug stores and health food stores.
Wishing you a flu-free season,
ProHealth Founder and patient advocate
Note: This information has not been evaluated by the FDA. It is generic and not meant to prevent, diagnose, treat, or cure any illness, condition, or disease. It is very important that you make no change in your healthcare plan or health support regimen without researching and discussing it in collaboration with your professional healthcare team.