It’s that time of year again…

Your patients need to make an informed choice about whether or not to get a flu shot.

Pre-flu season…
And everywhere your peripheral neuropathy patients look they see signs advertising “Flu Shots – Walk Ins Welcome” or “Get Your Flu Shot Today.”
For the average, healthy person getting a flu shot is a no-brainer.
After all, the flu accounts for 200,000 hospitalizations every year and up to 36,000 deaths.  If they can take a shot and avoid that, why wouldn’t they?
But if your patients have peripheral neuropathy caused by

  • Diabetes
  • Cancer (and you’re undergoing chemotherapy)
  • Shingles
  • HIV/AIDS or some other immune system disorder
  • Exposure to toxins
  • Gluten sensitivity (also known as celiac disease)
  • Kidney or liver disease
  • Hereditary neuropathy

They may have concerns about getting a flu shot – especially your peripheral neuropathy patients with underlying immune issues.  HIV patients tend to be especially skeptical about receiving the vaccine. 
If your patients’ peripheral neuropathy is caused by any of these underlying illnesses, they need to make an informed choice about whether or not to get a flu shot.   
They make that informed choice by consulting you as their NeuropathyDR clinician.
This is what they need to know. 
The Flu Vaccine Will Not Actually Make Them Sick
Contrary to urban myth, the flu vaccine will not make your peripheral neuropathy patients sick.  It works by stimulating the immune system to produce antibodies that actually fight the virus. It does not give them the flu.    
Make sure they understand that there is no evidence that the flu shot will make their neuropathy symptoms worse if their neuropathy is caused by any of the underlying illnesses we listed above.  In fact, the Centers for Disease Control strongly recommends that peripheral neuropathy patients with any of these illnesses receive a flu shot every year because they’re more prone to developing serious complications if they get the flu.
Special Concerns for Your Guillain-Barre Syndrome or CIDP Patients
If your patient’s peripheral neuropathy is caused by Guillain-Barre Syndrome or chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (CIDP), they need to exercise some caution before receiving the flu vaccine. 
Because the vaccine keeps them from getting the flu by tricking their immune system into producing antibodies to fight it off,  if they have neuropathy caused by Guillain-Barre Syndrome or CIDP,  this immune stimulation may actually cause a relapse in patients with a history of either of these illnesses.  
If they have had Guillain-Barre Syndrome and the resultant peripheral neuropathy in the past, it might be a good idea to wait at least one year after their symptoms are gone before receiving a flu shot. 
If your patient has CIDP and their symptoms are still present, they might want to avoid the flu vaccine.  Talk to your CIDP patient and consider the chances of complications from the vaccine as opposed to the health risks of actually getting the flu.  Issues to take into consideration are:

  • Advanced age
  • Other chronic medical conditions
  • Possible relapse triggered by getting the flu virus  

Who Should You Advise to Get a Flu Shot?
The Centers for Disease Control recommends that people receive the flu shot every year if they fall into any of these groups:

  • They’re six months to 19 years old
  • They’re 50 years of age or older
  • They have a chronic medical condition (lung, heart, liver or kidney disease, blood disorders, diabetes)
  • They live in a nursing home or other long term care facility
  • They live with or care for someone at high risk for complications from the flu (healthcare workers, people in their household (i.e., children too young to be vaccinated or people with chronic medical conditions)  

Make sure that you ask about all of these issues when you do your physical and history.
In the end, the decision to get the flu shot or take a pass on it is up to the patient.  As their Talk NeuropathyDR clinician, your job is to help them make an informed decision by weighing all the possible issues they may face as a peripheral neuropathy sufferer.
Pre-vaccination counseling is another service you can offer your peripheral neuropathy patients.  Let us help you reach them.  
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