Is the flu bug out to get you?

fluThe FLU virus is thought to be spread mainly from person to person through droplets made when people with the flu cough, sneeze or talk. Flu viruses may also spread when people touch something with the flu virus on it, and then touch their eyes, nose or mouth. Patients with cancer and immune-compromised patients are NOT at an increased risk for getting the flu, but they are at an increased risk for complications from the flu. But there are steps you can take to stop the flu bug from getting to you.

According to FLU.gov, a website managed by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, “If you are a cancer survivor, you are still at higher risk for flu-related complications.” It recommends, as do most institutions, that you DO receive the inactivated flu vaccine shot, and NOT the nasal spray which is a live virus. The flu vaccine is still the best protection against the flu.

Cancer and chemotherapy treatments weaken your immune system, making you more likely to develop serious complication from the flu. Some complications that can occur are:

  • Pneumonia
  • Hospitalization
  • Death

With an increased risk for developing pneumonia, you should talk with your doctor about receiving the Pneumococcal vaccine in addition to the flu vaccine. This vaccine will protect you against pneumonia.

Key issues to remember for cancer patients and the flu vaccine:

  • The flu shot from last year does not protect you this year.
  • Even if you have never had the flu doesn’t mean you can’t or won’t get it this year.
  • You cannot get the flu from receiving the flu shot.

You can infect someone with the flu virus even before you develop any flu symptoms. Here are some steps to take to avoid the spread of germs and protect you and your family from getting the flu:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.
  • Avoid contact with sick people.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs.
  • Get plenty of sleep.
  • Exercise.
  • Decrease stress.
  • Drink plenty of fluids.
  • Eat healthy food.

If you are a cancer patient and get the flu, contact your oncologist for instructions. Early treatment is important, especially for those patients that have a weakened immune system or cancer.

Take the next step:

  • View the University of Michigan Health System’s schedule for flu shots in primary care offices (PDF).
  • Use the CDC’s three-step approach to fight the flu bug (PDF).
  • Read about droplet precautions from the CDC. These are steps health care professionals should take to guard against spreading flu germs to others when taking care of a patient with the flu.
  • Still have questions? Call the nurses at the University of Michigan Cancer AnswerLine™. They can help patients or their loved ones find a clinical trial or provide insights into the newest and latest cancer treatments. Feel free to call at 1-800-865-1125 or send an email.

vanessa thumbnailThe Cancer AnswerLine™ nurses are experienced in oncology care, including helping patients and their families who have questions about cancer. These registered oncology nurses are available by calling 800-865-1125 Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. – 5 p.m. Your call is always free and confidential.



University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer CenterThe University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center’s 1,000 doctors, nurses, care givers and researchers are united by one thought: to deliver the highest quality, compassionate care while working to conquer cancer through innovation and collaboration. The center is among the top-ranked national cancer programs, and #1 in Michigan according to U.S. News & World Report. Our multidisciplinary clinics offer one-stop access to teams of specialists for personalized treatment plans, part of the ideal patient care experience. Patients also benefit through access to promising new cancer therapies.