Flu jab or no flu jab? That is the question. Every autumn, our Information Team gets asked lots of questions about the flu jab and if people with MS should have it, so here’s the lowdown.
Influenza or 'flu' as most of us know it, is a highly infectious disease that causes a number of unpleasant symptoms, including fever, aches, sore throat, fatigue and nausea. If you have MS, catching the flu can make your MS symptoms worse and in some instances could trigger a relapse.
The NHS guidelines recommend that a flu jab is routinely offered free to people in the UK who are at risk of severe health complications following influenza infection. These include elderly people, young children, pregnant women and people with some long-term health conditions (including MS), as well as healthy people who are carers or health care workers.
So is it safe and effective for people with MS? Research has found that vaccination was effective in people with MS and offered them protection from flu infection. Although disease modifying drugs affect the immune system, most did not stop the vaccination from being protective against the flu. Some research suggests that you might get less protection from the flu vaccine if you're on certain DMDs, but further studies need to be carried out to confirm this. Being vaccinated against flu does not change your chances of developing MS or of having a relapse if you already have MS.
In terms of side effects, they will be the same for people with MS as for any other person who receives the flu jab. Some people may experience soreness at the injection site, or the symptoms of a cold, such as a headache, runny nose or sore throat. These generally clear up quickly and can be treated at home.
To summarise, the benefits of vaccination greatly outweigh any risk and people with MS are encouraged to have the annual flu jab. If you haven't heard from your GP about getting the flu jab yet, you can contact the surgery directly to make an appointment. Of course, you and your GP should take into account your individual circumstances, including any other health conditions you have.
Can I have the flu jab if I'm on a DMD (disease modifying drug)?
The MS Trust's resident MS nurse advisor, Nikki Embrey, answers some of your questions on DMDs.
The flu jab
NICE guidelines say people with MS should be offered immunisation against influenza, as flu infections can cause worsening symptoms or may trigger relapse.
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Vaccination and immunisation
People with MS should have all the usual vaccinations unless they are on certain immunosuppressants or having a bad relapse.