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Your Flu Questions Answered

If you have asthma, it’s especially important to protect yourself from the flu. Here’s how.

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Though people with asthma are not more likely to get the flu, influenza can be more serious for people with asthma, even if their asthma is mild or their symptoms are well-controlled by medication. This is because people with asthma have swollen and sensitive air­ways, and influenza can cause further inflammation of the airways and lungs. Influenza infection in the lungs can trigger asthma attacks and a worsening of asthma symptoms. It can also lead to pneumonia and other acute respiratory diseases. To help you prepare for the upcoming flu season, here are answers to some important flu-related questions.

Should I get a flu shot?
People with asthma are at increased risk of severe disease and complications from the flu, so everyone with asthma who is six months old and older should get a flu vaccine. Vaccination is the first and most important step in protecting against influenza. Even if you don’t have a regular doctor or nurse, you can still get the flu vaccine. Flu vaccines are offered in many locations, includ­ing doctors’ offices, clinics, health departments, pharmacies, college health centers, and increasingly by a number of employers and public schools. People with asthma should get the flu vaccine made with inactivated flu virus (commonly called a flu shot), not the nasal spray vaccine. Addition­ally, adults and children with asthma are more likely to develop pneumonia after getting sick with the flu than people who do not have asthma, so you should also get the pneumococcal vaccine to protect against pneumonia. The pneu­mococcal vaccine may be given at the same time as the flu shot.

What can I do to help reduce the spread of the flu?
Stay home when you are sick, except to get medical care, and stay away from other people who are sick. Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when coughing or sneezing, and throw the tissue away after you use it. If you do not have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your elbow or shoulder, not your bare hands. Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after cough­ing or sneezing. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth; germs are spread that way. Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, work, and school, especially when someone is ill.

What should I do if I think I may have the flu?
If you do get sick with flu symptoms, call your doctor, and take flu antiviral drugs if your doctor recommends them. Treatment should begin as soon as possible because antiviral drug treat­ment works best when started early (within 48 hours after symptoms start). Antiviral drugs can make your flu ill­ness milder and make you feel better faster. They may also prevent serious health problems that can result from the flu. However, people with asthma should not use the antiviral drug zanamivir (Relenza) because there is a risk it may cause wheezing in people who already have asthma or other lung problems.


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Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

This article was originally published in Coping® with Allergies & Asthma magazine, September/October 2013.