5 Things to Know About the Flu

Sick woman laying on a sofa
October 1, 2015
Julie Longlet, ASCO staff

Along with leaves crunching underfoot and piles of pumpkins, a sure sign of fall is the start of flu season. Flu viruses cause seasonal influenza. The symptoms include a cough, sore throat, fatigue, runny or stuffy nose, headaches, body aches, a fever and/or chills, and occasionally, vomiting or diarrhea.

The good news is you can avoid or minimize your risk of getting the flu this year. Let’s look at five things you need to know about the flu. share on twitter

  1. Flu complications are dangerous for people with cancer. Although people with cancer are not necessarily more likely to get the flu, they are at higher risk for flu complications. These complications include sinus infections, bronchitis, pneumonia, and ear infections. This is because cancer treatment often weakens a person’s immune system, making their bodies less able to manage infections. If you are caring for someone with cancer, you should also get the flu shot. So, protect yourself and those you love by being vaccinated.

    Note: Some people should NOT get flu shots, such as those who have egg allergies, have had previous reactions to the flu shot, and some people with cancer. If you are unsure, talk with your doctor.

  2. Flu shots lower your risk of getting the flu, but not colds or other viruses. Wouldn’t it be nice if one shot could protect us from getting sick all winter? Until this scientific breakthrough happens, the best ways to keep yourself from getting sick are to:

    • Thoroughly wash your hands with soap and warm water. Or, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

    • Cover your coughs and sneezes.

    • Avoid touching your face, nose, eyes, and ears, especially after shaking hands or touching objects others have touched, such as door handles and phones.

    • Clean common surfaces with disinfectant or rubbing alcohol. Flu viruses may stay around for up to 8 hours on some surfaces.

    • Avoid people who are sick.

  3. People undergoing active cancer treatment should check with their doctors about when to get a flu shot. A good time to get the flu shot is before treatment. However, if you are already in treatment, doctors say it is best to wait until your blood counts are near normal. Everyone’s treatment schedule is different, so be sure to ask your doctor, nurse, or other member of your cancer care team about the best timing for your flu shot. share on twitter

  4. There are multiple ways to get the flu vaccine. Did you know there are 4 ways to get the flu vaccine?

    • Intramuscular shot. This is what most people think of when they think of a flu shot. It goes into the muscle. These come as standard dose, which is available for most people over age 2, and high dose, which is for adults older than 65.

    • Intradermal shot. These shots go into the skin, not the muscle. It uses a much smaller needle and is approved for adults ages 18-64.

    • Jet injector. This high-tech sounding device delivers the vaccine through a high-pressure, narrow stream of fluid. It is approved for adults ages 18-64.

    • Nasal spray. This vaccine is in the form of a mist that goes into your nose. It is not recommended for children under 2, adults over 50, pregnant women, and people with compromised immune systems, such as most people undergoing cancer treatment.

  5. Antiviral drugs are the best way to treat the flu if you already have it. If you do get the flu, it is important to get antiviral drugs as soon as possible, usually within 48 hours of getting sick, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Getting treatment fast helps prevent flu complications. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved these three drugs for the flu:

    • Oseltamivir (Tamiflu)

    • Peramivir (Rapivab)

    • Zanamivir (Relenza)

    If you or someone you love with cancer gets the flu, ask the doctor about antiviral medication and whether your treatment needs to be delayed. share on twitter