Should cancer patients get the flu shot?
Many patients may not realize this, but cancer and its treatments can affect your immune system’s ability to fight infection. This can put cancer patients who catch the flu at risk for complications from the virus, which is why Mashul Chowdhury, MD, says they should make the flu shot a top priority every fall.
Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Cancer Treatment Centers of America® (CTCA), Dr. Choudary also recommends that because of their close relationships with patients, caregivers, including health care providers, get a flu shot every year. Even survivors and patients currently undergoing treatment need a preventive approach to influenza. “It doesn’t matter if you are actively receiving chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy. I should get the vaccine,” Dr. Choudary says.
Cancer can increase the risk of complications
Although researchers don’t know whether cancer patients and cancer survivors are more likely to get the flu than the general population, cancer can increase the risk of flu complications, including hospitalization or even death, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Disease control and prevention. That’s why it’s so important that caregivers get the vaccine, too, says Dr. Choudary. “The flu is spread easily by coughing, sneezing, or even touch,” he says. People can transmit the virus at least a day or two before they develop symptoms.
Since it takes up to two weeks for the body to produce antibodies to protect itself from the flu, the American Cancer Society recommends getting a flu shot as soon as possible. Flu season in the United States generally runs from October to May, with a peak in January and February, although the season varies by geographic region.
And don’t worry about the flu vaccine giving you the flu. “This is a common mistake,” says Dr. Choudary. “People shouldn’t be worried about getting the flu from these vaccines.” In fact, the flu vaccine, when given as an injection, contains inactivated viruses or no viruses. The injection can cause a slight fever and pain at the site, but this is just a reaction to the vaccine, not the flu itself. Flu symptoms often include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, and extreme tiredness.
How to reduce your risk
To reduce the risk of getting the flu, avoid crowded areas (and wear a mask if you have to meet a crowd) and practice good hand washing hygiene. If you think you have the flu, call your doctor to see if they can prescribe an antiviral medication that can help reduce the severity and duration of the virus.
If you have been in contact with someone who has or suspects they may have the flu, contact your doctor immediately. He or she can prescribe preventive antibiotics that, if taken early enough, can prevent the development of the flu, says Dr. Choudary.
“The vaccine is your best protection against the flu,” he says. “I think everyone should take advantage of that.”