Stay Healthy During Flu Season!

Connie Bell, RN, MPH  |  Posted
elderly woman with kidney disease gets flu shot during flu season

It is that time of year: We are in the midst of the dreaded flu season. But there are many ways that you and your loved ones can reduce your chances of catching and spreading this bug.

The flu virus (influenza) is a highly contagious respiratory virus that can cause mild to severe illness. Some of the symptoms are fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, muscle and body aches, headaches, and fatigue. 

Some individuals are at a higher risk for flu complications. People with chronic kidney disease or kidney failure are at higher risk, as are people with other chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease. Young children and people over 65 are also at higher risk. That is why it is vital that you take steps to help reduce your risk of catching the flu. 

Here are some important steps you can take to help reduce your risk of catching and spreading the flu this year: 

Get Vaccinated

This is the number one way to reduce your risk of catching the flu. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone 6 months of age and older should get the flu vaccine. All patients with chronic kidney disease, including those with a kidney transplant, should have a flu shot. 

There are two different ways to get the vaccine, shot or FluMist. However, it’s important to know that according to the CDC, the safety of FluMist is not established for people with underlying medical conditions, including kidney disease. You should ask your doctor which form of the vaccine is best for you.

Transplant patients should have the regular injection for their flu vaccine, but should wait 6 months post-transplant to receive the vaccine*. The flu vaccination may make your illness milder and reduces your risk of severe complications if you do get sick. The vaccine is usually available through your primary care provider, kidney care specialist or at many pharmacies. The flu season can start as early as October and can last as long as May. So, the earlier you can get your vaccination, the better! Find out where you can get your flu shot here: http://www.flu.gov/prevention-vaccination/vaccination/  

Practice Good Health Habits

Make sure that you wash your hands frequently, especially before eating.  If you are not able to wash your hands with soap and water, use hand sanitizer instead. Try not to touch your mouth, nose and eyes. Avoid close contact with individuals, particularly if they are sick. Stay home when you are feeling ill. If you are actively coughing or sneezing, make sure to cover your mouth and nose. Keep your immune system as strong as it can be by making sure you get plenty of rest, managing your stress, drinking plenty of fluids, and eating a well-rounded diet. 

Antiviral Medications

If you do get the flu, antiviral medications can help treat the illness.  They help to shorten the illness and make the symptoms milder, thus preventing severe complications. Antiviral medications come in pill, liquid or powder form. These are only available by prescription—they are not over-the-counter medications. It has been shown that they work best when given within two days of becoming ill with the flu. It is important to follow your health care provider’s instructions when taking them.

There are several misconceptions about the flu shot. Here are the answers to some typical questions. 

Can the flu shot give you the flu virus?

No, you cannot get the flu from the flu shot. The most common side effects from the flu shot are soreness, redness, tenderness or swelling where the shot was given. Low-grade fever, headache and muscle aches also may occur.  

Is it better to get the flu than the flu vaccine? 

Definitely not. In the United States, more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from the flu each year. The flu is an infection that can cause serious complications, especially among those who have a chronic health problem like kidney disease. It is a safer choice to receive the vaccine than getting the flu to get the immune protection.

Do you have more protection against the flu if you get vaccinated twice?

No, there has been no benefit shown to getting vaccinated twice against the flu in one year, even among the elderly populations with weakened immune systems.

Since it’s almost January, isn’t it too late to get vaccinated?

While it is ideal to get vaccinated as soon as the vaccines are released in the fall, it can still be beneficial to be vaccinated in January or later. The flu virus is unpredictable and the seasons can vary substantially. The flu usually peaks in January or February, but can occur as late as May.

Aren’t serious reactions to the flu vaccine common?

Serious reactions to the flu vaccine are extremely rare. If they do happen to occur, they usually happen within a few minutes to a few hours after you receive the vaccine. These reactions can be life-threatening, but there are effective treatments for them.

Does the flu vaccine start working right away? 

It takes about two weeks after you receive the vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body and give you protection against influenza virus infection. In the meantime, you are still at risk for getting the flu.

*Source: http://www.renalandurologynews.com/flu-vaccine-advised-for-transplant-patients/article/149345/. Accessed 12/12/14.

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