Flu Related Complications in Cancer Patients

Flu is a common communicable disease. Symptoms include fever, headache, muscle ache, chills, sore throat or cough. Though healthy individuals recover from flu soon enough, people with a weak immune system may suffer from further complications as their body is not strong enough to fight off the virus.

People who have or had cancer generally have poor immunity levels and are susceptible to complications from even the smallest of ailments, like flu. According to experts, they must get their flu vaccines on time to avoid these complications which can worsen their condition and lead to hospitalization and in severe cases, death.

Even after a cancer patient has been through with the treatment, the risk of complications from flu diminishes only gradually. This may take a few months to few years. 

Flu shots for patients and caregivers to avoid risk

Dr. Mollie deShazo, from the University of Alabama, Birmingham, suggests that though flu shots are not 100% effective, but still act as the best possible tools against influenza and related complications like pneumonia, bronchitis, ear infections or sinus problems.

It is advisable that cancer patients should get the shots before the onset of flu season as the body needs at least 2 weeks after the shot to build immunity. Anyway, even if someone gets the vaccine after the flu has set in, he/she can still benefit from it. Though you may still get the flu after getting the shot, the symptoms will not be very strong and so your suffering will also be considerably less.

For cancer patients, deShazo suggests the flu shot instead of flu mist. The reason being that flu mist contains live flu virus which could cause complications in cancer patients as their immune systems are not very strong. On the other hand, the flu shot is made of inactive viruses.

If someone has the flu, the virus can spread around to people within six feet of the affected person. Moreover, someone with the virus is able to pass it on to others right from the day the virus affects that person, though he might not have developed any symptoms yet. And even after a week of falling sick, he can still pass on the virus to anyone around.

The virus spreads though touch, or even when someone with the flu coughs or sneezes. They might not even know that they are sick and may still pass on the virus to others. So it is very important to practice hygiene and healthy habits to prevent the flu from spreading. If a family member of a cancer patient catches the flu, he should avoid coming near the patient until he is completely free of flu.

Apart from the flu shot, deShazo also suggests some simple measures which can help keep flu at bay.

  • Wash hands with soap and water often or use a sanitizer
  • Avoid touching parts of your face like mouth, nose, eyes without washing hands
  • Avoid any contact with someone who has the flu already
  • Ask people around you to get flu shots
  • When you cough or sneeze, remember to cover your nose and mouth with a tissue and dispose of it immediately
  • Keep a distance of at least six feet from people who look ill 

If you fall sick

A cancer patient or a caregiver may still fall sick even after taking necessary precautions. If you fall sick and notice flu-like symptoms, you must contact your doctor immediately. He might put you on an antiviral medication which will stop reproduction of flu viruses in your body. Stay at home and take sufficient rest till the fever subsides. Keep away from others and follow your doctor’s advice to the T. Visit your local Newnan Cancer Center for more information.

You can also play a role in cancer research by being a part of the Breathe Deep Atlanta initiative in Georgia that aims to fund cancer research and help in better treatment.