By Sara Bondell - September 20, 2019
It can be hard to predict how bad a flu season will be, but there are already some clues that this year’s season may be a bad one.
One clue is looking at the Southern Hemisphere, where winter just ended. The recent flu season in Australia arrived early and spread quickly, with the country seeing five times the number of cases it would normally see and a higher death toll.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the flu vaccine every year for everyone six months and older.
But what if you’re a cancer patient?
Cancer patients are more vulnerable to complications from the flu because of their weakened immune systems, and the virus tends to live longer in them than those with healthy immune systems. The flu can cause respiratory failure or secondary bacterial infections that could lead to life-threatening pneumonia.
Moffitt Cancer Center experts say the traditional flu shot, which is made from the dead flu virus, is safe for most cancer patients unless you:
- Are receiving anti-B-cell antibodies such as rituximab or alemtuzumab; or
- Are going through intensive chemotherapy such as induction or consolation therapy for acute leukemia
“Those patients won’t be able to mount an immune response to the vaccine, which makes it very important that the people they come into contact with on a daily basis are vaccinated,” said Dr. Rod Quilitz, supervisor of Clinical Pharmacy Services.
Quilitz also recommends cancer patients avoid the nasal spray, which is made from a weakened live virus and can cause illness in a person with a compromised immune system.
If a cancer patient does get the flu, the antiviral drug Tamiful is safe to take. Ideally, it should be taken within 48 hours of the first symptoms. It can also be a preventative tool if a family member has the flu.
The CDC says the single best way to avoid the flu is to get vaccinated each year, but other ways to stop the spread of the illness include:
- Avoiding close contact with people who are sick
- Staying home when you are sick
- Covering your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing
- Washing your hands
- Avoiding touching your eyes, nose or mouth
- Practicing other good health habits like cleaning frequently touched surfaces, getting plenty of sleep, eating healthy and managing stress.