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Tips To Avoid the Flu and Other Respiratory Diseases

December 16, 2022

The surge in respiratory cases as flu season arrives along with the overlap in the continuing COVID-19 pandemic is stressing an already overwhelmed healthcare system. Cancer patients can be especially vulnerable when it comes to infectious disease risk. That’s why it is important for patients, their families, and caregivers to be prepared and take steps to minimize risk of contracting respiratory illnesses that may be rapidly spreading in your community.

Adding to the challenge posed by flu and COVID-19, cases of respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, which is more prevalent among children and elderly individuals, are on the rise. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 6,000-10,000 adults die annually from the virus, with immunocompromised individuals, such as those with cancer, at greatest risk.

Even when preventative measures are in place to help fend off the flu and COVID-19, viruses overlap and infections can inundate healthcare systems, harming those with compromised immune systems. Everyone should practice extra caution at this time of year to slow transmission of the flu, COVID-19, and RSV.

Get Your Flu Shot and COVID-19 Booster.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends everyone six months of age or older be vaccinated for the flu every season. This is especially important for cancer patients, their caregivers, and families. The flu shot is proven to be safe and effective for people with cancer. If you are not up to date on your COVID-19 booster, it is safe to get both a COVID-19 vaccine and a flu shot at the same time. Always be sure to speak with your doctor if you have concerns or questions about these vaccinations and any side effects.

Practice Good Hygiene.

The importance of good hygiene cannot be stressed enough. Simple acts like covering coughs and sneezes, washing your hands often, and cleaning frequently touched surfaces at home, work, or school can stop the spread of germs.

Face masks can also help control the spread of the flu, COVID-19, and other respiratory diseases. If you have a weakened immune system or have a higher risk of serious illness, wear a mask that provides you with the most protection possible when you're in an area with a high number of people. When in doubt, always talk to your healthcare provider.

Socialize Responsibly and Stay Home if You’re Sick.

As the holidays approach, we are likely to want to spend time with loved ones. But continuing to practice safe social distancing (and wearing a mask when necessary) will help slow the spread of the flu, COVID-19, and RSV, while minimizing your risk and easing the additional strain on hospitals and healthcare workers.

Flu-like symptoms can be a sign of a serious infection that could be potentially dangerous for cancer patients. If you have any of these symptoms, stay home and try to stay away from others. Symptoms include, but are not limited to:

  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Headache
  • Body aches
  • Fever or chills - it is important for people with cancer to call their doctor immediately if they get a fever

It’s understandable to feel anxious about the flu and other respiratory diseases like COVID-19 and RSV when you have cancer. To prevent the spread of these diseases, get your flu shot, get all COVID vaccines and boosters recommended for you, practice good hygiene, socialize responsibly, and talk to your doctor about concerns related to your risk for infection.

Daniela Gehrke, BSN, RN is the infection control and safety educator for Texas Oncology and has played a vital role in the implementation and streamlining of infection control and safety standards across the practice.

For upcoming webinars visit www.TexasOncologyFoundation.org.