The CDC recommends annual flu shots for everyone age six months and older to prevent the flu or at least reduce its symptoms when it occurs. Recent research underscores why it’s especially important for people with serious lung conditions, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or asthma—even if it’s mild and under control—to get an annual vaccine.
The flu is a major cause of COPD exacerbations, or flare-ups, which worsen coughing and breathing problems. Researchers in Canada used a national database to analyze the medical records of 4,755 people with COPD who were hospitalized for an exacerbation of their COPD or other respiratory illness between 2011 and 2015. A significant portion—38.5 percent—tested positive for the influenza virus. Patients who had the flu were at risk for dire consequences: Nearly one in five ended up in intensive care, and one in 10 died.
The researchers, who published their findings in 2019 in Chest, also determined that getting the influenza vaccine reduced the likelihood of COPD patients being hospitalized due to the flu by 38 percent. That’s similar to the overall protection that the flu shot provided to the general public around that time. Most years, the vaccine reduces the risk for the flu by 40 percent to 60 percent.
Surveys show that only 50 percent to 60 percent of people with COPD get the flu vaccine each year, but it’s one of the most important things they can do to stay healthy this winter. People who spend time with people with COPD should be vaccinated as well.