Senior pharmacist Neil Hamilton urges PH patients to look ahead to autumn and protect themselves against seasonal viruses.

Whilst most of us are only just going back to school or work after the summer holidays, September coming around means autumn and winter are not far off.

Beautiful countryside walks and colourful leaf drops are something to look forward to, but with them often comes a turn in the weather.  For many people the colder weather brings concern over colds, flu and other illness. 

As a result, this is the perfect time of year to plan ahead and think about how you can help defend yourself against the prospect of suffering a bout of the flu.  You can do this quickly and easily by having the flu-jab vaccine.  

I can tell you from personal experience that since I had full-blown flu once, booking in for an annual flu-jab has been a priority just as soon as my GP surgery has that year’s batch in.

Flu is an extremely debilitating and unpleasant viral illness for the fittest in society and unfortunately those people with other conditions will fair even worse.  Having pulmonary hypertension (PH) may not put you at greater risk of catching flu, but will have a far greater impact on you.  Indeed your body may really struggle to fight it off and this will almost inevitably have an impact on your breathing.

There are very few reasons why you wouldn’t be able to have it on medical grounds.  The main exception is those of you taking medication that dampens the immune system (immunosuppressants such as mycophenolate or azathioprine).  The flu-jab is a very tiny dose of the flu virus so if your immune defences are down, the effect of the little dose is magnified.  The other thing to note is that the vaccine itself contains egg proteins, so if you are allergic to eggs, just ask the clinic for the egg-free version. Other than these it should be pretty safe for everyone.

Not many people have reactions or side effects, but obviously as this is a tiny dose of the virus, some people feel a bit “fluey” for a day or two.  This can often be easily controlled with a few doses of paracetamol if necessary.

Although flu jabs are the most common vaccine that most people have these days, it is possible to protect yourself against other nasty illnesses including pneumonia and shingles amongst others. 

Pneumonia vaccine gives protection against serious chest infections, and may be recommended for “high-risk” groups, but not everyone would need one.  This high-risk groups would include people aged over 65; those with kidney and liver problems, congenital heart disease, diabetes and those taking immunosupressants.  If in any doubt, just ask your GP, nurse or pharmacist.

The shingles vaccine protects older people from developing this reactivation of the chicken-pox virus.  You must be over 70 to be entitled a shingles vaccine and is a one-off jab with no repeat doses necessary.  Shingles can be very painful and take some time to heal, so you may decide that a vaccine to help prevent an attack would be beneficial.

As with any treatment, these vaccines will not suit everyone and there may be unwanted side effects.  However it would be very sensible for PH patients to discuss their options with their GP, nurse, pharmacist or specialist centre about any of these vaccinations that you think may be of benefit to you.

If you have access to the internet, there is lots of helpful information on these vaccines on the NHS website at

If you can’t get onto the website, just ask a healthcare professional who will be more than happy to advise you.

I would suggest that fore-warned is fore-armed and with a bit of planning you may be able to save yourself the risk of nasty viruses this autumn and winter.  Hopefully once you are prepared, you’ll be able to look forward to leaf-kicking and snowball fighting!