Cancer Center

Cancer, the Flu and You

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control, living with cancer increases your risk for complications from influenza, more commonly known as the flu. If you have cancer now or in the past, the CDC cautions, you are at higher risk for complications from seasonal flu or influenza. And those complications can include hospitalization and even death.

It’s essential, then, to get a flu shot, and it’s just as important the get the right kind of flu shot, the CDC says. People with cancer should not get the nasal spray vaccine. That’s because the spray vaccine consists of live viruses, while the shot is made up of inactivated viruses. The shot is safer for people who have a weakened immune system. (The CDC also recommends the flu shot for people who live with of care for cancer patients and survivors.)

The agency suggests that you ask your doctor if you need pneumococcal shots as well. Many people who are at increased risk for flu are also vulnerable to pneumococcal disease. People with cancer or other diseases that compromise the immune system should ask their health care providers if they pneumococcal shots.

The CDC recommends antiviral drugs to treat and prevent infection. These prescription drugs stop flu viruses from reproducing in your system. Antiviral drugs, given after you become ill, can make your illness milder and help you feel better faster. Additionally, the CDC says, antiviral drugs may also prevent serious flu complications.

The CDC suggests making an advance plan with your physician about what to do if you get sick. The plan should include when you should notify your doctor and how to quickly get a prescription for an antiviral medicine if you need it.

Once you have flu symptoms, stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone. The only reason to leave home is to get medical care or for other necessities, the CDC says. Your fever should go away without the use of a fever-reducing medicine. And stay away from others as much as possible.

If you’ve had cancer treatment, such as chemotherapy or radiation within the last month, or have blood or lymphatic cancer, call your doctor right away if you’ve been within six feet of someone you know or suspect to have the flu. Your doctor might decide to give you antiviral drugs.

The CDC adds that if you have cancer and have not received treatment within the last month, or you have had cancer in the past but are cancer-free now, and have had close contact with someone known or suspected to have the flu, call your doctor and ask if you should receive antiviral drugs.

Preventive strategies are surprisingly simple: Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze, and wash your hands often.

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