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Cancer Care: Understanding the Flu’s Impact

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Fall and winter are peak seasons for the flu. The Hawai’i Department of Health recently stated that the number of cases is low within the state, but it is increasing and experiencing similar trends as the rest of the country1. As more people get sick, it is important for cancer patients and their ‘ohana to understand the impact and take advantage of preventative measures like flu shots.

Most cases of the flu are mild, but this may not be the case for those living with cancer or a history of cancer. Your risk of developing serious flu complications increases, and the virus can trigger pneumonia, inflammatory responses, organ failures and other life-threatening issues. The increased risk is due to your weakened immune system brought on by both the cancer and chemotherapy treatments. White blood cells help your body fight off viruses, such as the flu, but chemotherapy destroys many of these cells.

Protect Yourself with a Flu Shot

The best way to prevent the flu and its complications is to get vaccinated each year with the flu shot. The injectable influenza vaccine, known as the flu shot, is approved and safe for those living with cancer. You should avoid the nasal mist, as it can cause the flu if you are immunocompromised. Speak with your healthcare team prior to receiving a vaccine, as they can help determine the best timing to schedule it. Caregivers and family members are also encouraged to receive a flu shot, to help reduce the risk of a cancer patient getting sick.

Avoid the Flu with a Few Simple Tips

With flu season upon us, it is important to stay aware of your environment. In addition to receiving the flu shot, there are simple preventative measures you can take to reduce your risk.

  • Track your white blood cell count with your healthcare team. When it is low, you are most at risk for infections and viruses.
  • Avoid close contact with those that are sick and use a mask when out in public.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water. Use a hand sanitizer when soap and water is not available. 

Act Quickly if You Have Flu Symptoms

Be vigilant about any signs or symptoms you experience. The CDC shares a complete list of flu symptoms and complications here. Call your doctor immediately if you have a fever. During chemotherapy, a fever is considered a medical emergency, even if it happens in the middle of the night. Keep your doctor’s phone number with you, including the after-hours line. If you visit the emergency room, tell them you are a cancer patient so they can make arrangements quickly.


1 https://governor.hawaii.gov/newsroom/doh-news-release-hawai%CA%BBi-respiratory-virus-rates-rise-early-in-season/

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