Fight the Flu: What People With Asthma Need to Know
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC, for short), flu activity so far this season is low in the United States. However, peak flu season is fast approaching. So it’s important for you to know what you can do to fight the flu.
Influenza (commonly called “the flu”) is a contagious illness that can lead to a hospital stay or even death. When you have asthma, the flu can attack your already weakened respiratory system, causing serious problems with breathing.
Here’s what you need to know to keep the flu from causing complications with your asthma.
Top Tips for Fighting the Flu
- Get your annual flu shot! The CDC recommends that everyone 6 months of age and older get a flu vaccine each year, preferably by mid-November. A yearly flu vaccine is the first, best and most important step in protecting against the flu. People with chronic illnesses such as asthma, and adults older than age 65 are especially encouraged to get the flu shot. Getting vaccinated yourself protects people around you, including those who are more vulnerable to serious flu illness. Babies and young children, older people, and people with chronic health conditions are most at risk.
- Stop the spread of germs with specific action steps. The flu is highly contagious, so people with asthma and their caregivers should do everything they can to avoid coming into contact with sick people during flu season. If you do get sick, cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when sneezing or coughing. Wash your hands often and well with warm water and soap.
- If you come down with the flu, get in touch with your doctor as soon as you can to ask about getting a prescription for an antiviral medication. Your doctor can start you on a medicine that can treat the virus that causes the flu. But you need to start this type of medication within 24 hours of the start of flu symptoms. These antiviral medicines can make illness milder and shorten the time you are sick. They may also prevent serious complications.
Don’t Buy Into the Myths About Flu Shots
Flu shots work! In fact, the CDC reports that studies show flu shots lower the risk of doctor visits due to flu by around 50% to 60%, when the viruses in the vaccine are like the ones spreading in the community.
But, you’re wondering about previous years when the flu vaccine did not actually contain the viruses that were circulating that year, right? Well, the good news is that the CDC predicts the vaccines this year are going to better match circulating flu viruses than in previous years.
Of course, there are no guarantees that getting a flu shot will prevent the flu for every person every year. You probably know someone (maybe yourself) who has gotten the flu even after having a flu shot. But, it’s important to understand that people who get the flu shot are still likely to get less sick than people who do not.
And even with vaccine effectiveness in the range of 30 to 60 percent, flu vaccination prevents millions of illnesses and tens of thousands of flu-related hospitalizations each year.
The Time to Get Your Flu Shot Is NOW
Flu season usually peaks during January and February, but can begin earlier than that. So early vaccination will give you the best protection. The CDC recommends getting your flu shot by the end of October each year, but it’s not too late to get it right now. Flu season may even extend into the spring, as late as May.
Keep in mind that it takes about two weeks after you get a flu shot for protective antibodies to develop in the body. But, even if you don’t get around to getting the flu shot as early as you should, don’t skip it. As long as the flu viruses are circulating, it’s not too late to get a flu shot!
There are various types of flu vaccine that can be made each year, but for the 2017-2018 flu season, the CDC is recommending only the injectable type. They do not recommend the nasal spray vaccine this year.
Flu Shots Are Safe & Cannot Make You Sick
There is a lot of misinformation out there about flu shots. First of all, there is no such thing as the “stomach flu.” The flu is a respiratory illness and does not affect your digestive system. If you are having nausea and vomiting or diarrhea, this is not the flu. It’s a digestive virus, which is a totally separate type of infection.
Despite what you may have heard, the flu shot is very safe, as long as you are not allergic to it. There can be mild side effects for a day or two after you get the shot, such as soreness, redness, tenderness, or swelling at the injection site. Applying ice to the site can help provide relief. A few people may also have a low grade fever or mild aches for a brief time.
Putting up with these mild side effects is still better than catching the flu, especially if you have asthma!
The most important thing to understand is that you cannot catch the flu from a flu shot, because the vaccine is made from killed (or dead) versions of the virus.
If you want to stay as healthy as possible this fall and winter and keep your asthma under the best control, then you need to get your yearly flu shot! Talk with your doctor about the best plan to make this happen for you. If you can’t get your flu shot there, most box stores and chain pharmacies offer flu shots these days. And if you do get sick with the flu anyway, then contact your doctor right away so that you can get on the antiviral flu medicine.
Protect yourself and your family by fighting the flu with your annual flu shot!
- Centers for Disease Control. Why get a flu vaccine? Accessed 10/30/2017. Centers for Disease Control. CDC Influenza Division Key Points (November 3, 2017).