Flu Vaccination and Chronic Disease

  • I recently attended an expert panel presentation about flu vaccination and chronic disease. I thought I would report it here for my readers with asthma because getting a yearly flu vaccine is one of the easiest things you can do to stay healthy.


    Experts attending this panel included:

    • Dr. Seema Jain, a medical epidemiologist for the Centers for Disease Control (or CDC for short).
    • Dr. Mitchell Grayson, a board-certified allergist, medical school professor and avid researcher in the fields of asthma and allergy. He represented the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America (AAFA for short).

    Important Points to Consider

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    Even though we are at least halfway through winter, we are still well in the midst of "flu season." Flu activity remains high and widespread throughout the United States.


    The predominant strain of flu virus this year is H1N1, similar to the year 2009. And here is the good news: the flu vaccines developed for the 2013-2014 flu season are designed to protect specifically against the H1N1 virus. So, people who get the flu shot this year should definitely expect to be protected against the flu.


    The experts predict this year that this type of flu poses the greatest risk to chronically ill young and middle-aged adults. But people of any age can get the flu.


    What This Means for People Who Have Asthma


    Asthma is a chronic illness that particularly affects the respiratory system, namely your airways. And the flu also attacks the airways. So the combination can be life-threatening at times.


    Basically, the flu makes your asthma worse. So, even if your asthma has been under control, you may find that if you get the flu, your asthma spirals out of control.


    And what's worse is that when someone who has asthma gets the flu, they often also end up with pneumonia on top of everything else. Such flu-related complications can result in hospitalization, or even death.


    Three Action Steps to Protect Yourself From the Flu


    1. Get a flu vaccine... it's your first line of defense against the flu. It's not too late! If you already got your vaccine this year, good for you! You're on the right track. If you haven't, make a plan to do so today or tomorrow. Don't wait. Down below, I'll cover your options for vaccine.


    2. Take everyday preventive actions to stop the spread of germs. Do your best to avoid coming into contact with people who have the flu or other contagious illnesses. Don't share food, drinks, eating utensils, etc. with anyone at this time of year. Practice stringent handwashing, both in public places and even at home or at friends'/family members' homes.


    3. Take antiviral flu medicine if you do come down with the flu. If the worst happens and you do get sick, make sure you see a doctor within 48 hours of the start of your symptoms, if at all possible. A doctor can prescribe an antiviral drug like Tamiflu that can greatly decrease the severity of your symptoms and hasten your recovery.


    Options for Flu Shots


    In the past few years, new flu vaccines, such as the nasal mist, have emerged on the scene. However, the nasal mist is made from live virus, as opposed to the shots, which use killed virus. Because chronically ill people like asthmatics already have compromised immune systems, experts feel the flu shot is safer for you than the nasal mist.


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    That's actually good news, because it's probably easier to find a flu shot provider. Many people prefer to go to their personal physician for a flu shot, which is an excellent choice. However, if that's not convenient or costly (especially if you don't have health insurance that covers it), you can find flu vaccines at many local pharmacies, big box stores like Walmart, grocery stores, and so on. Local health clinics also often provide flu vaccination.


    Flu vaccine supplies were expected to be adequate this year. Still, the longer you wait, the less chance you have of finding the flu vaccine. So act now!


    One More Tool: Your Asthma Action Plan


    Every person who has asthma should have an Asthma Action Plan. The action plan can be very helpful in identifying if the flu or any other illness or trigger is affecting your asthma control.


    Watch for the peak flow readings or changes in symptoms to help you know if asthma control is slipping. Early action can help you get back in control quickly. The plan will guide on using rescue medication and/or seeking medical attention.


    A Note for Caregivers


    I realize caregivers of people who have asthma could be reading this post too, especially parents of children with asthma. You might think the flu vaccine is only for your loved one. But that's not true.


    Caregivers should also be vaccinated against the flu, because if you were to contract the flu, you would be posing a risk to the person you're caring for. So, show your love in one more way by getting your own flu shot!


    Hopefully, this post has given you some new ways to think about flu vaccination and asthma. I wish you a happy & healthy winter flu season this year!

Published On: February 13, 2014