If you’re among the millions who are living with heart failure, getting flu and pneumonia vaccinations can help keep you out of the hospital this flu season. While October is the best time to get a flu shot, it’s not too late to protect yourself and loved ones from the flu.
A recent review conducted at Duke University School of Medicine in Durham, N.C., found that flu and pneumonia vaccines help protect heart-failure patients from life-threatening respiratory infections that can exacerbate heart failure. Another study, released by the European College of Cardiology, suggested that getting a flu vaccination reduces your risk of being hospitalized.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)—which, along with the American College of Cardiology, recommends yearly flu shots for adults with heart failure—advises heart failure patients to follow three steps to keep the flu from worsening your condition.
1. Make time to get the flu vaccine.
The CDC recommends an annual flu vaccine as the first and most important step in protecting against flu viruses, for everyone older than 6 months. While there are many different flu viruses, a flu vaccine protects against the viruses that research suggests will be most common.
Flu vaccination can reduce flu illnesses, doctors’ visits and missed work/school due to flu, as well as prevent flu-related hospitalizations. If you’re at high risk for flu complications—this includes young children, pregnant women, people with chronic health conditions like asthma, diabetes, or heart and lung disease, and adults 65 years or older—it is especially important to decrease your risk of severe flu illness.
Vaccination also is important for healthcare workers, infant caregivers and others who live with or care for high-risk people to keep from spreading flu to them.
2. Stop the spread of germs by taking preventative actions.
- Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
- While sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them.
- If you are sick with flu symptoms, stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. (Your fever should be gone for 24 hours without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.)
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it, then wash your hands thoroughly.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Germs spread this way.
- Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs.
3. Take antiviral drugs, if your doctor prescribes them.
Flu symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some people also may have vomiting and diarrhea. People may be infected with the flu, and have respiratory symptoms without a fever.
If you get the flu, antiviral drugs can treat your illness. Prescription medicine (pills, liquid or an inhaled powder) that is not available over-the-counter, antivirals are different from antibiotics.
They can make illness milder and shorten the time you are sick. They might also prevent serious flu complications. For people with high-risk factors like heart failure, treatment with an antiviral drug can mean the difference between having mild symptoms or a very serious illness that could result in a hospital stay.
Studies show that flu antiviral drugs work best when they are started within two days of getting sick, but starting them later can still be helpful, especially for those at risk from flu complications.
Stacey Daggett, RN, BSN, PCCN, CHFN, is a heart failure nurse specialist at Sarasota Memorial Hospital. She provides in-depth education specific to each patient’s individual diagnosis and needs.