by Dr. Bill Rawls
Chronic Lyme disease patients often worry about the dangers of getting a flu vaccine with a compromised immune system. Dr. Bill Rawls explains the potential risks and benefits, and shares information to help you make an informed decision in partnership with your doctor. Learn more about chronic Lyme disease here.
Hello, everyone, this is Dr. Bill Rawls.
Here we are again at the beginning of cold and flu season. From what I’m hearing, this is going to be a worse than average flu season, and the flu vaccine might not offer optimal protection.
When we talk about the influenza virus, we’re not talking about just one virus. There are actually four different types of influenza that can infect humans, and multiple different strains of those viruses. The different strains circulate around the world, and they’re constantly changing, so what you were exposed to last year might not be what you’re exposed to this year.
The flu vaccine can offer protection, but only if it’s well-matched. So each year, twice a year, experts from the World Health Organization get together and look at the flu season in the Northern Hemisphere and Southern Hemisphere, and they try to match up the strains that were most prevalent in the flu vaccine. Flu vaccine covers for four different types.
This year, there’s concern that two of the strains are mismatched. In other words, what may be coming down the pike is different from the flu that’s in the vaccine, because they had to make this thing well ahead to get it ready for the upcoming season.
They’re concerned that one of the influenza strains, H3N2, may be mismatched, as well as that one of the influenza B strains, the Victoria type, may be mismatched. We don’t know what it’s going to be like until we actually get into the flu season, but if you get the flu vaccine, we don’t know yet how well it’s going to protect you.
Now those of us who have struggled with chronic Lyme disease or who are in the middle of recovery know that the flu vaccine can have an effect on our immune system. So there’s always a tough choice of whether to get the flu vaccine or not. It’s a personal choice, there’s no right or wrong answer there.
In my experience, one time when I was in the middle of my recovery, I got the flu vaccine and I actually had a pretty significant relapse for three or four weeks. Muscle aches, flu-like feelings, fatigue, but it did gradually go away and get better. It may have been coincidence, but I’ve also talked to other people with chronic Lyme who have struggled with that same scenario.
Now it’s a tough decision. If you don’t get the flu vaccine and you get hit with the virus, that can be much worse than a relapse, and that can throw you back even further. But you do take a little bit of risk with the vaccine itself.
So it’s a bit of a personal choice. It’s good to talk to your primary care provider, let them help you make that choice. I also do other things to decrease my risk as much as I can, because there are a lot of other things out there that you can get besides influenza.
Try to decrease exposure, as far as going places that you might pick things up, as much as you can. Drink plenty of fluids, especially in the wintertime, to stay hydrated. Get plenty of sleep. And I take herbs.
Many others have antiviral properties — it’s one of the really nice things about herbs. They’re very safe to take, they cover for a lot of different viruses. So really, no matter what choice you make about the vaccine, it’s a really good choice to do the herbs.
If I get something, I boost the dose by two or three times what I’m taking just as a baseline. That can be part of your Lyme regimen, so a lot of people are already taking herbs. It can be protective.
I also take vitamin C, the Ester-C form of vitamin C, about 1000 mg every hour, if I start getting a scratchy throat or I think I might have something coming on.
No matter what you do, it’s important to stay connected with your primary care provider. If you do get what you think is a flu or a true influenza, some of the types of influenza do respond to antiviral therapy, but it has to be influenza before it’s going to work. So stay in touch with your primary care provider, and they can test to see if it is influenza and whether you’re a candidate for getting antiviral therapy.
That’s all I have for right now. Take care. And of course, stay well.