Preventing Colds or Flu When on Immunosuppressive Drugs

Elderly woman with cold/flu keeping warm
Prevent flu when taking Immunosuppressive Drugs. Martin Leigh / Getty Images

People with arthritis patients who take immunosuppressive drugs, such as DMARDs, TNF blockers, or corticosteroids, often ask how they can boost their immune system so they aren't as susceptible to colds, flu, or infection. What should people taking immunosuppressive drugs do? We asked rheumatologist, Scott J. Zashin, MD.

Dr. Zashin said, "It's funny you mention infection. I just returned from a meeting and next to me in coach was a nice guy who unfortunately coughed the whole trip.

I thought about my immunosuppressed patients and wondered what they might do to protect themselves. So, in answer to your question—the key is prevention.

  • Make sure you get a yearly flu shot and a pneumococcal vaccine which provides long term immunity to one type of pneumonia.
  • In contrast to the flu vaccine, the Pneumococcal should not be repeated for at least 5 years.
  • Lack of sleep will lead to a weakened immune system so try to get adequate rest.
  • If you are traveling in public transportation such as a bus, train or plane consider purchasing an N95 face mask in case you are next to a cougher—the masks that were recommended when SARS (severe acute respiratory syndrome) was prevalent.
  • Finally, good hand washing is essential—especially if you wipe your nose, as many infections gain entry to the body this way.

    Dr. Zashin is clinical assistant professor at University of Texas Southwestern Medical School and an attending physician at Presbyterian Hospitals of Dallas and Plano. Dr. Zashin is author of Arthritis Without Pain - The Miracle Of TNF Blockers.

    Continue Reading