Skipping the Flu Shot Can Lead to Dire Consequences in People with COPD

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The flu is a major cause of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) exacerbations, or flare-ups, which worsen coughing and breathing problems. A 2019 study in Chest identified the dire consequences of the flu in COPD patients and underscores why it’s so important for people with the condition to get an annual flu vaccine.

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 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.

The flu vaccine reduces your risk for developing the viral infection known as influenza, which can cause aches, cough, and fever. This year during the Covid-19 pandemic, getting an annual flu shot is especially important.