Coping with COPD and the flu


Flu season is in full swing. And for the 62 million people worldwide who suffer with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), getting the flu may be worse than for the rest of the population.


“People with COPD have compromised lung function and are at high risk for getting influenza,” said Dr. Amesh A. Adalja, clinical assistant professor in the Department of Critical Care Medicine and the Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

A COPD sufferer, he said, has poor lung function and takes medications such as chronic steroids and certain types of inhalers, which also can increase the risk of pneumonia and respiratory infections. The result can be a decreased ability of the immune system and the upper respiratory tract to fight off infection.


The flu also can be more severe among COPD sufferers, he said.

Once the flu strikes, it’s like a vicious circle. The infection triggers a flare-up of COPD symptoms, which physicians may treat with steroids, which allow the virus to multiply at higher levels.

The No. 1 thing COPD patients can do to reduce their odds of getting sick this flu season is to get the vaccine as early as possible, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Patients with COPD should ask for the High Dose Vaccine.


“Starting a couple of years ago, we now have a high-dose influenza vaccine that’s FDA approved for elderly patients, and a lot of COPD patients would fall into that category,” said Adalja. The high-dose vaccine has a larger amount of the inactivated flu virus, which will prompt a greater immune response. It’s designed to translate to a decreased risk of contracting the flu—or a less severe case if you do.

Other precautions COPD sufferers can take to ward off the flu:  


  • Don’t smoke or be around smokers
  • Take precautions around people who are sick
  • Practice good hand hygiene—wash your hands often
  • Get the pneumonia vaccination—anyone who gets the flu is at a heightened risk for secondary infections such as pneumonia.


If you do get the flu, start antiviral therapy as soon as possible. Antivirals such as Tamiflu are highly recommended for COPD patients to help lessen the severity of their illness. Studies show if taken with 36 hours, antiviral therapies can reduce symptoms by 30 percent and severity by 40 percent.

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