Editor’s note: If you are interested in getting more information about the flu vaccine during the coronavirus pandemic, please see our blog about the flu shot in 2020.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone six months of age and older receive one of the three available flu vaccines available at doctors’ offices, pharmacies and health centers across the country: the inactivated influenza vaccine (IIV), recombinant influenza vaccine (RIV4) or live attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV4).
Although some versions of the vaccine are approved for certain age groups, or people with a specific health status, the organization recommends no one vaccine over the other. Your doctor will tell you which version is most appropriate for you.
“Influenza is a potentially serious disease that can lead to hospitalization and sometimes even death,” the CDC writes on its website dedicated to the flu. “Every flu season is different, and influenza infection can affect people differently, but millions of people get the flu every year, hundreds of thousands of people are hospitalized and thousands or tens of thousands of people die from flu-related causes every year.”
Research shows a cancer diagnosis can increase the risk of serious complications that come along with the flu. If you have pancreatic cancer now and are undergoing treatment, such as chemotherapy or radiation therapy, your immune system may be weakened. This can make it harder to recover from the flu and affect the ability to receive further cancer fighting-treatments.
When it comes to taking precautions to avoid or treat the flu, always check with your doctor. Here are a few guidelines to discuss with your caregivers and medical team.
1. Get the Flu Shot
Each year, laboratories across the country work to create new strains of the flu shot. This vaccine is anticipatory, which means scientists developing the shot are using strains of the virus they believe will most likely cause illness in the upcoming flu season.
The best way to prevent the flu is to get the vaccine each year in the early fall. Most doctors recommend that everyone get the vaccine, but if you have a weakened immune system or other medical condition, be sure to check in with your healthcare providers before rolling up your sleeves.
In addition to the flu shot, there is a nasal spray. But the nasal spray uses a live vaccine, so it is not recommended for certain age groups or those with weakened immune systems (or people in close proximity to them).
Caregivers should also get vaccinated since they can easily introduce the flu to patients. This is especially important for patients who cannot get the shot.
2. Keep Your Distance
As you go about your daily activities, medical professionals recommend that you keep your distance from those who are or may be sick. The general rule is to stay six feet away from affected individuals.
Also, avoid shaking hands during flu season to prevent the spread of the virus through contact.
Some patients may prefer to wear a surgical mask to help reduce their chances of catching the flu virus. The same is true for sick caregivers who want to prevent the transmission of illness to those undergoing cancer treatment or those who may have a weakened immune system.
3. Practice Good Hygiene
Washing your hands frequently is key to staying healthy, especially when your immune system is weakened, and it’s no different during flu season, even if you received the shot.
Washing your hands before meals, as soon as you return home from an outing and if you’ve been around people who may be sick are essential practices. Requesting that work colleagues and guests to your home do the same is equally important.
4. Know the Symptoms and See a Doctor
Flu symptoms can be similar to those of a cold, but the two illnesses are not the same.
If you think you’ve been infected with a virus, it’s important to reach out to your doctor immediately. Your doctor can come up with a treatment plan to help reduce symptoms and shorten the length of the illness. He or she can also monitor your symptoms and act fast if your health is seriously impacted.
Symptoms, according to the CDC, include (but aren’t limited to):
- Fever or feeling feverish/chills
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle or body aches
- Fatigue or tiredness