Importance of flu vaccine for the immune-compromised and the people around them
Autoimmune diseases such as myositis and the use of steroids and immune suppressants medications as treatment compromise the immune system making patients more vulnerable to infections. And once we have an infection, healing tends to take longer than in healthier people and can create complications which can be life-threatening.
Most people who get sick with influenza (flu) will have mild illness and will recover in less than two weeks. However, those who are chronically ill and take immune suppression drugs are more likely to get flu complications that can result in hospitalization and sometimes death. For myositis patients, the flu is no joke.
While some may experience mild side effects from the flu vaccine such as a headache, upset stomach, and fever, the flu shot does not cause the flu.
We highly suggest getting vaccinated by the end of October if possible. If not, you can still get vaccinated any time throughout flu season. Also urge your family members, caregivers, and anyone in close contact with you to also get vaccinated.
The Infectious Diseases Society of America (IDSA) released a guideline in December 2013 which states that most people with compromised immune systems are especially vulnerable to illness and should receive the flu shot and other vaccinations.
IDSA, the Center for Disease Control (CDC), Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) and other organizations, stress vaccinations for both the immune-compromised individual as well as people who live with or care for people at high risk for influenza-related complications.
The flu vaccine is the best protection against the flu this season according to the flu.gov website. If you get the flu vaccine, you are 60% less likely to need treatment for the flu by a healthcare provider. Getting the vaccine has been shown to offer substantial other benefits including reducing illness, antibiotic use, time lost from work, hospitalizations and deaths.
It is recommended that you receive your flu vaccine as soon as it is available, typically early October. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body and provide protection against influenza virus infection. In the meantime, you are still at risk of getting the flu. The vaccine noted here is effective for the entire 2014/2015 flu season.
LIVE VS. KILLED VACCINE
The injectable vaccine is a killed virus with minimal risk of complication for the immune-compromised, however, the nasal spray vaccine is a live virus which contains live bacteria or a virus that has been modified.
It is recommended that those who are immune compromised, as well as the people around them like family and household members and caregivers, should not receive the nasal spray as it is the form of a live virus which may be transmitted to the immune deficient family member. There are certain caveats such as patients with severe T-cell deficiency who should not receive the H1N1 vaccine in particular.
ADDITIONAL TIPS TO BEING PREPARED
In addition to receiving a flu vaccine, MDA suggests additional ways to protect yourself and those you love from exposure to influenza, including:
- Educate family and household members about the heightened risk of seasonal and H1N1 influenza for those with neuromuscular disease, and the importance of staying away from others who are experiencing flu-like symptoms.
- Promote good hand hygiene among everyone in your home, which means washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after coughing or sneezing. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers containing at least 60 percent alcohol also are effective.
- Encourage everyone in your home to practice respiratory etiquette by covering coughs and sneezes with tissues or with the inside of your arm. Dispose of tissues in a waste receptacle after use.
- Stress the importance of not sharing utensils and drinking cups in your household, and encourage everyone to avoid touching their faces, especially after handling shared items such as telephones or remote controls.
- Educate yourself about symptoms of the flu — fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, chills, and fatigue. Diarrhea and vomiting also may be experienced. Contact your physician as soon as possible if you develop flu-like symptoms.
BE PREPARED JUST IN CASE
Just in case you get the flu, it’s a good idea to prepare yourself in advance.
- Make sure you have an adequate supply of prescribed medications on hand in the event you’re unable to leave the house because of illness.
- Make sure that your medicine cabinet is stocked with necessary health supplies, including fever-reducing medications, a thermometer, hand sanitizer for family members or roommates, etc.
- Hydration is critically important when fighting the flu — be prepared with supplies for fluids (e.g., bottled water, tea bags, etc.)
More information about the 2014-15 season’s flu vaccines:
- CDC website: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/mm6332a3.htm#Groups_Recommended_Vaccination_Timing_Vaccination
General Flu Prevention tips from CDC:fluvaccines