People with multiple sclerosis (MS) need to take extra precautions to prevent the flu. These precautions include avoiding those who are sick and getting an annual flu shot.

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People with MS may experience temporary relapses of symptoms if they get the flu. Keep reading for more information about how MS and the flu interact.

Some research suggests that if someone with MS becomes sick with the flu, it can cause their MS symptoms to flare or relapse. As a result, a doctor may need to adjust medications or treatment plans to help address the recurring symptoms.

For people with MS, upper respiratory infections may trigger a series of immune responses that lead to a relapse. However, the exact way upper respiratory infections cause relapses is unclear.

According to some experts, having a fever can worsen MS symptoms. However, unlike an actual relapse, these new or worse symptoms do not usually last longer than 24 hours. They generally go away once the body’s temperature has returned to typical levels. Doctors refer to this as a pseudoexacerbation.

However, the longer a person has the flu, the more likely they are to experience an MS relapse. As a result, it is usually best to treat the flu with over-the-counter fever reducers and antiviral medications as soon as possible.

Can someone with MS get a flu shot?

The National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS) suggests that people with MS need to follow vaccination guidelines and get an annual flu vaccine, but only if they are not taking steroids or experiencing a relapse. Most injectable flu vaccines contain a dead virus, which experts consider safe for those with MS.

It is important to note that those experiencing a relapse or taking steroids to treat a relapse or flare need to wait until the relapse has resolved or until they have completed that treatment before getting a flu shot. This is because their immune systems are weakened.

In general, people with MS always need to consult a doctor to make sure they will not experience any interactions between their MS treatments and the flu vaccine.

Those with MS also need to avoid getting a live virus or live-attenuated vaccination if they are taking a disease-modifying therapy (DMT).

In addition, the NMSS recommends against the live FluMist vaccine, especially for those taking DMTs.

In general, people need to consult a doctor if they have questions or concerns about vaccinations.

It is not always possible to avoid the flu, but it is best for a person with MS to take precautions against getting it.

In addition to getting a flu shot, there are several measures people can take to reduce their exposure and the likelihood of getting sick.

Tips for preventing the flu

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a person can take the following steps to help prevent getting the flu:

  • If sick, stay home from work.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Regularly clean hands with soap or sanitizer.
  • Cover the mouth and nose when sneezing or coughing.
  • Practice appropriate hygiene and keep surfaces clean and sanitized.
  • Avoid touching the nose, mouth, and eyes.

Are there specific risk factors?

According to a study from 2020, people with MS have a higher risk of infection than the general population. In addition, the steroids that doctors give to treat relapses can suppress or weaken the immune system.

For these reasons, it is even more important for those with MS to take extra precautions to avoid getting sick.

According to recent research, most people with MS experience up to three upper respiratory infections per year. When these occur, these individuals are two times as likely to experience an MS relapse.

As a result, taking precautions to prevent upper respiratory infections — and, when appropriate, getting a vaccination — can help prevent MS relapses.

A person needs to consult a doctor at the first sign of flu-like symptoms. A bad cold can sometimes have many of the same symptoms as the flu. Flu symptoms can include:

  • stuffy or runny nose
  • body aches
  • sore throat
  • tiredness
  • coughing
  • fever
  • chills

A doctor may be able to prescribe medications to help shorten the duration of the flu or at least make symptoms more manageable.

Those with MS also need to take time off from work, school, or other engagements to rest as much as possible. In addition, drinking plenty of water to stay hydrated is important.

Checking with a doctor before using any medicated product can be helpful.

Before a person starts any treatment, it is important that a doctor has provided the correct diagnosis of their condition.

People with MS also need to ensure that a doctor knows all the medications they are currently taking before they prescribe any treatments for the flu.

For those with MS and a fever, the most important thing is getting their temperature down. Over-the-counter pain relievers that reduce fever are ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or acetaminophen (Tylenol).

A person with MS should talk with a doctor if over-the-counter treatments or prescription medications are no longer effective at controlling their symptoms.

The doctor can help determine if adjustments are necessary to treat the flu or MS. They can also decide if other medical interventions are necessary.

People with MS need to contact a doctor at the beginning of cold and flu season to discuss when it is safe to get a flu shot. The doctor may provide the shot immediately as long as the individual is not currently experiencing a relapse.

If a person comes down with the flu, they need to take time off from work, school, or other engagements.

They also need to talk with a doctor to see if they can prescribe any medications to help shorten the duration of the flu or relieve symptoms.

People with MS need to take precautions to help prevent getting the flu each year.

These precautions can include getting the flu shot — unless a doctor recommends against it, avoiding those who are sick, and keeping hands and all surfaces clean and sanitized.

A person with MS needs to consult a doctor ahead of time about the best treatment option if they get the flu.