For many years, asthma patients have been recommended to get annual flu shots in order to prevent the flu. As this year's fall season gets started, it is time to put your winter virus protection plan into effect, focused on the seasonal flu and pneumonia. These respiratory infections can be irritating and misery-inducing to most of the world, but to people with chronic respiratory disease like asthma, influenza and pneumonia can be deadly.
Getting a vaccine is the easiest way to stay healthy by preventing the flu and pneumonia from striking you this year. But with all the media hype about the "new" swine flu, it can be confusing as to just what you DO need. So, in this article, we'll take a closer look at the options.
Seasonal Flu Shots
We are now dealing with two different types of flu and flu shots -- the usual seasonal flu shot and the new swine flu vaccine, now being referred to as the H1N1 virus vaccine. Both types of flu can significantly worsen respiratory health for people with asthma. But H1N1 flu poses a greater risk to children and young adults, while seasonal flu is a greater danger for older adults. But be wary -- both flu types can infect anyone of any age.
Everyone who has asthma (or is caregiver for someone with asthma) should receive a seasonal flu shot this year (and every year), as soon as possible. You cannot get the flu from a flu shot because it is made from killed virus. Getting the shot might be a little uncomfortable at the time or for a day or two afterwards, but not getting the flu makes is worthwhile to endure a little discomfort.
Experts recommend that you get your seasonal flu shot as soon as you can, so that you can avoid catching both seasonal flu and H1N1 flu at the same time. Don't wait for the H1N1 flu shots to be available!
Swine Flu (H1N1) Shots
You can read this article by our expert, Dr. James Thompson, to get the details about H1N1 flu and flu shots.
What you need to know is that people aged 25 to 64 who have a chronic medical condition should definitely get the H1N1 vaccine when it becomes available, in addition to the seasonal flu vaccine. They are two different shots and cannot be combined into one syringe. Also, seasonal flu shots will likely be available sooner than the H1N1 flu shots, which are expected to be widely available by mid-October.
If you are older than 64, then check with your doctor about whether you need to get an H1N1 flu shot. It's probably still a good idea, but your risk of developing H1N1 is lower than the other age groups, even if you have asthma. Still, if vaccine remains available once the high risk groups have all been immunized, you may be eligible.
Pneumonia is another respiratory viral illness that threatens the health of people with asthma each year, particularly older adults. So, your doctor may recommend that you get a pneumonia shot periodically, although experts do not specifically say people with asthma need to do so. Dr. Fred Little wrote a thorough post on the pneumonia vaccine and asthma here. Pneumonia vaccines last longer than flu vaccines, so you only have to get a new one every five to 10 years (check with your doctor on timing).
Pneumonia and seasonal flu can be an extremely serious combination for someone with already compromised lungs like people with asthma, so it's essential that you prevent these illnesses to the best of your ability.
UPDATE (11/2011): The CDC has updated its recommendations to include people with asthma (who are age 19 years & older) should get pneumonia vaccines.
Where to Get Flu & Pneumonia Shots
Most doctors should have vaccine available, at least early in the fall, so that may be your best place to start. In addition, public "clinics" are available in many areas in local pharmacies, grocery stores and health departments. Here are a couple of places where you can learn more about what might be available in your area:
- CDC site on H1N1 availability by state
- American Lung Association's flu clinic locator
- FindaFluShot.com, administered by Maxim Health Systems
No shortages are expected this year in flu vaccine, but you should still get your shot as soon as you can. It takes at least 2 to 3 weeks to build up to full protection after you get the shot, so the earlier you get it, the better. Generally, you should be able to get pneumonia shots most anywhere you can get flu shots.
Other Things You Can Do to Stay Healthy
Despite the widespread availability of flu and pneumonia shots, many people still choose not to get them each year. And that puts you at risk for getting sick too. So you'll want to do your best to avoid people who haven't been vaccinated.
Practice frequent handwashing, especially if you go out into the public. If you are exposed to the flu, watch for symptoms and call your doctor right away if you think you may have contracted the flu or pneumonia to find out whether other treatment might be helpful.
Do your best this year to prevent the spread of the flu and pneumonia!
Published On: October 06, 2009