Asthma and The Flu

The cool, crisp air marks the start of influenza (or "flu") season. One out of five people will get the seasonal flu, having fever, headache, muscle aches, sore throat, and a dry cough. The flu is not a common cold; it can be a very serious illness. It causes thousands of deaths and over 200,000 hospitalizations in the U.S. every year. Most healthy people who get the flu will feel better within a week, but children, older adults, and people with asthma and other chronic diseases like diabetes and COPD are at a higher risk for hospitalization and death. The flu is easily spread when someone who has it sneezes or coughs. The virus goes into the air and is inhaled, or lands where others touch it, then their own mouth or nose to become infected.

The 2007 national asthma guidelines say flu shots should be given to everyone who has asthma. The flu shot can be given to all ages over 6 months, and those who get one are 60% less likely to need treatment for the flu by a healthcare provider. The nasal spray is not for people under two years old and those with asthma. The best time to get the flu vaccine is October or November, but it is still valuable to get vaccinated in December and beyond. The flu shot should be offered to people with asthma at any doctor visit during flu season, but this often gets missed.

A recent study of Michigan Medicaid data from 2006 to 2012 looked at vaccination rates for children with persistent asthma- those with asthma that have had ED visits, hospital stays and many doctor visits for asthma. It found the rates ranged from a low of 26% in 2006 to 40% in 2009, and have since stayed below that peak. Some of these children visited a doctor between August and December (the first part of the seasonal flu season) in each year, but did not get a flu shot. Just over half of all these children had this "missed opportunity" last year. The Michigan Care Improvement Registry (MCIR), used to track childhood immunizations, can help by "flagging" asthma patients who need a flu shot, and doctors can call their asthma patients to remind them to get a flu shot soon.

People with asthma who do get the flu should contact their doctors right away. There are medicines that may help ease symptoms and speed up recovery. Washing hands often and covering the nose and mouth when sneezing or coughing can help keep the flu from spreading to others. Stay home from work or school until fully well to keep classmates and coworkers healthy.

Find a flu shot clinic near you.