Certain psoriatic arthritis (PsA) treatments, such as immunosuppressive medications, can increase the risk of infections, including the flu.

PsA is a chronic disease that occurs when a person’s immune system is overactive, causing inflammation and symptoms such as joint pain and swelling.

Treatments for PsA include medications that modify the immune system, such as disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs) and biologics.

However, these medications can increase the risk of developing infections and complications of an infection.

This article explains why people with psoriatic arthritis can be more susceptible to the flu virus and the steps they can take to prevent infection. It also offers self-care tips and describes when to seek medical attention.

A person with psoriatic arthritis and the flu sitting on a couch.-2Share on Pinterest
Danil Nevsky/Stocksy United

Some people may experience PsA flares after illness, such as the flu. However, PsA flare triggers may differ from one person to the next.

A PsA flare may involve worsening symptoms, such as the following:

  • painful, tender joints
  • swelling around the joints
  • stiffness, particularly in the morning

A 2020 article summarizes research that suggests that people with psoriatic arthritis may have a higher risk of infections. This link may be robust as doctors often prescribe immunosuppressive medications to treat this condition.

However, the article’s authors highlight that further research is necessary to investigate this risk. This is because most of the current research focuses on psoriasis and not PsA.

Doctors may prescribe DMARDs, such as methotrexate, to treat PsA. These medications suppress the immune system. However, they can increase the risk of infection and illness for people with PsA.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that these medications can also increase the risk of serious complications from the flu. These complications include the following:

The CDC recommends that people with a weakened immune system get the flu shot to reduce their risk of becoming ill and reduce the severity of the flu if they acquire it.

People can also take the following steps to reduce their risk of getting sick:

  • avoid contact with those who are sick or limit contact if they are ill
  • catch coughs and sneezes with a handkerchief or tissue, covering the nose and mouth
  • throw out tissues after using them
  • avoid touching the face, particularly around the mouth, nose, and eyes
  • regularly wash hands with soap and water
  • clean and disinfect any surfaces, including bedding

The CDC recommends people more likely to experience complications from the flu seek medical attention quickly. Doctors can prescribe antiviral drugs, but these work best when a person takes them within the first few days of developing symptoms.

The National Psoriasis Foundation notes that doctors may also advise people to stop taking any immunosuppressant medication. However, it stresses that individuals should only stop taking these after speaking with a doctor.

People with PsA and flu can follow the same advice as others for treating their illness. This includes:

  • getting plenty of rest and sleep
  • drinking water to keep hydrated
  • keeping warm
  • eating a balanced diet
  • staying home when sick
  • avoiding or limiting contact with others

People need to speak with a doctor before taking pain medication for any aches due to the flu. Some pain relief medications may interact with prescription treatments for the flu or PsA.

Although flu is usually a minor illness, people with PsA may be at higher risk of complications, especially if they are currently receiving treatment that modifies their immune system.

People with PsA need to speak with their doctor promptly if they think they have the flu.

The CDC adds that adults need to seek emergency medical care if they experience the following symptoms:

Certain PsA treatments can increase the risk of contracting sickness and developing complications from illnesses such as the flu.

People with PsA need to exercise caution around flu infections and seek prompt medical attention if they show signs of the flu.

Doctors may prescribe antiviral drugs to fight the infection and may reduce or remove other medications for the duration of the illness.