Editor’s note: You’ve got your cozy sweaters pulled out and your favorite fall recipes ready, but there’s another way you should prepare for autumn – a flu shot. Flu season officially begins in October and usually continues through May. While “The Flu and You” initially appeared on the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN) blog on Jan. 24, 2018, we are re-publishing an amended version to remind pancreatic cancer patients and their caregivers that they should take extra precautions as we head into the 2018/2019 flu season.
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). The organization recommends no one vaccine over the other.
“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.”
While science doesn’t show that having cancer increases your chances of getting the influenza virus, research shows a cancer diagnosis can increase the complications that come along with the flu. If you have pancreatic cancer now and are undergoing treatment, like chemotherapy, your immune system may be weakened. This can put you at risk of serious and even life-threatening problems if you get the flu.
When it comes to taking precautions to avoid or treat the flu, always check with your doctor. That said, 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.
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 this time 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.
3. Practice Good Hygiene
Washing your hands frequently is key to staying healthy when your immune system is weakened, and it’s no different during flu season, even if you’ve 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 like the feeling you get when you have a cold, but the two illnesses are not synonymous.
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 takes a turn for the worse.
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