Got Flu (Vaccine)?

Dec 12, 2013
The flu vaccine is important for all people, but especially for those with asthma or COPD, where complications from the flu can become serious.
  • Asthma
  • Respiratory Conditions

The days are getting shorter, the weather is colder and this is the time of the year pharmacists play a more important role than ever in helping patients through the cough and cold season. As a specialist pharmacist focused on pulmonary conditions, what concerns me is that many of those at the greatest risk will neglect to obtain a flu vaccine this year. My team and I counsel patients about respiratory illnesses every day and help them achieve better health outcomes. One simple but important thing they can do to maintain good respiratory health is to get a flu vaccine.

Asthma and the Flu

Respiratory infections such as influenza are more serious in patients with asthma and COPD, and such infections can often lead to pneumonia. Despite those with asthma being at a greater risk for developing complications from the influenza virus, only one-third of all adults with asthma, and one-fifth of those younger than age 50 who have asthma, get annual flu vaccines according to the Centers for Disease Control.

This is especially troubling because children with asthma are especially at risk for developing influenza-related acute respiratory illnesses. In fact, the New York City Board of Health recently voted to mandate flu vaccinations for children under the age of 6 who are attending preschool or daycare in an effort to reduce flu transmission in small children.

From 1976 to 2007, between 3,000 and 49,000 people died annually from the flu. Most healthy kids and adults are able to fight off these infections, but people already in high-risk categories are especially susceptible.

Who Is at Risk for Acute Respiratory Illness?

  • Anyone over age 65
  • Anyone who resides in a long-term care facility or nursing home
  • Anyone with a long-term lung condition (among other diseases)
  • Anyone aged 19 to 64 who is a smoker or has asthma

Having asthma and COPD does not put you at a greater risk for getting the flu, but it does mean you are at a higher risk for developing complications. The influenza virus can increase inflammation and mucous secretions, which exacerbates breathing symptoms in those already predisposed to swollen, inflamed and sensitive airways with asthma and COPD.

There is an overwhelming amount of evidence that those with asthma and other high-risk conditions would benefit greatly from the vaccination, especially since they are more susceptible to complications and hospitalizations from the virus if contracted. My team and I make it a point to ask our patients who are at high risk about their flu vaccination status. For those uncertain about the importance of getting one, we can educate them about the risks and benefits and encourage them to get an annual flu shot. And now is the time.

While a flu shot can be taken any time after October, flu season generally peaks in January and February. So if you haven’t already done so, get vaccinated. If you have questions, your specialist pharmacist can help.

Author Bio

Don Smart, RPh
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