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Content on this page was developed during the 2009-2010 H1N1 pandemic and has not been updated.

  • The H1N1 virus that caused that pandemic is now a regular human flu virus and continues to circulate seasonally worldwide.
  • The English language content on this website is being archived for historic and reference purposes only.
  • For current, updated information on seasonal flu, including information about H1N1, see the CDC Seasonal Flu website.

What Adults with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) Should Know About 2009 H1N1 Flu (Formerly Called Swine Flu)

December 31, 2009 12:00 PM ET

Chronic medical conditions that confer an increased risk for influenza-related complications include chronic pulmonary disease, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). People with COPD can get seriously ill with 2009 H1N1 influenza. Learn how to protect yourself and what to do if you have COPD and symptoms of the flu.

COPD and the Flu

An estimated 10-24 million adults in the U.S. have COPD1. People with COPD and other chronic pulmonary diseases are considered at increased risk of serious influenza-related complications2.

Vaccines and People with COPD

Flu Vaccine

Getting a flu vaccine is the best way to prevent influenza. Everyone with COPD or any other chronic pulmonary condition is considered to have chronic lung disease and should receive the vaccine against 2009 H1N1 flu because they could become seriously ill from the flu.

  • People with COPD should get the "flu shot"—a vaccine made with inactivated (killed) flu virus. The flu shot is given with a needle, usually in the upper arm. The shot against 2009 H1N1 flu is a "killed" vaccine, so you cannot catch the flu from getting this shot.
  • Persons with COPD should not get the nasal spray vaccine which is a live vaccine.
  • The flu shot, inactivated 2009 H1N1 vaccine, can be administered at the same visit as any other vaccine, including the pneumococcal polysaccharide vaccine.

Pneumonia Vaccine

Everyone with COPD should also receive the pneumococcal polysaccharide (pneumonia) vaccination according to the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices3.

What to do if you have Symptoms of Flu

Flu is thought to spread mostly by the coughing and sneezing of people who are ill with influenza. If you feel the onset of flu symptoms and you suffer from COPD, contact your health care provider right away.

Symptoms of influenza can include:

  • fever
  • cough
  • sore throat
  • runny or stuffy nose
  • body aches
  • headache
  • chills
  • tiredness
  • some people may also have vomiting and diarrhea.

People may be infected with the flu, including 2009 H1N1 flu and have respiratory symptoms without a fever.

If needed, your doctor will prescribe an antiviral medicine, oseltamivir (Tamiflu®), that treats the flu. The medicine is most helpful if it is started soon (within the first 48 hours) after the person becomes sick. Talk with your doctor now about how to reach him or her quickly by telephone if you think you have the flu. You should also be especially alert to changes in your breathing.

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Treatment of flu for people with COPD

If you do become sick with the flu, continue taking your normal medications, unless your health care provider makes other or additional recommendations.

Be sure to keep the contact information for your health care provider with you at all times. As always, maintain a list of all medications you take as well as the dosages and frequency.

Protect Yourself and Others

Take these everyday steps to protect your health:

  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Germs spread that way.
  • Stay home if you are sick. CDC recommends that you stay home from work or school and limit contact with others to keep from infecting them for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone.
  • Try to avoid close contact with sick people
  • Ask family and friends to be mindful of your higher risk and not expose you to their sickness if they have an infectious illness

Additional Resources


  1. Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD)
  2. CDC. Use of influenza A (H1N1) 2009 monovalent vaccine: recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), 2009. MMWR 2009;58:1-8.
  3. ACIP Provisional Recommendations for Use of Pneumococcal Vaccines

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