Cancer and the flu: What patients and caregivers should know

January 4, 2015 | by Tami Dennis

Flu season is upon us, and few people should take the risk of infection more seriously than cancer patients and their loved ones and caregivers.

Cancer and the flu: What you need to know The flu can seriously sicken healthy people. It's even more of a risk to cancer patients. Here, Sanjeet Dadwal explains the double risk posed by cancer and the flu.

With the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warning of widespread influenza outbreaks, it’s clear that flu season – and the associated risks – won’t end anytime soon.

Here, Sanjeet Dadwal, M.D., an associate clinical professor at City of Hope and a specialist in infectious disease, answers three main questions about cancer and the flu.

How dangerous is the flu for cancer patients?

Flu is associated with significant risk for morbidity and mortality in patients with cancer. Influenza-related hospitalizations tend to be four times higher in cancer patients than the general population, and mortality about 10 times higher in cancer patients than the general population. In allogenic stem cell transplant patients, pneumonia tends to occur in one-third of those with flu – with a mortality rate of up to 30 percent.

Considering how ineffective the flu vaccine is this year, is there any point in getting vaccinated?

As you know, CDC announced that the prevalent/circulating strain (2014-2015 season) is not an exact match to the vaccine strain. However, it is predicted there is still a 50 percent match for the vaccine. CDC still recommends vaccinating against influenza even though it is not a 100 percent match, because it may still protect against severe manifestations of the disease in those infected with the variant strain. On the other hand, it could prevent infection in those with the strain that matches the vaccine.

What should family members of cancer patients do to ensure they don’t bring the virus home?

Family members of cancer patients should get vaccinated for influenza. If they do develop signs or symptoms of influenza infection, then they should avoid contact with their family member with cancer and obtain medical evaluation, such as the need for treatment with an anti-viral agent.

For more questions and answers about the flu, check out “Cancer, the Flu, and You,” from the CDC.

There you’ll find a wealth of information and resources, including guides recommended for caregivers of cancer patients or survivors: “The Flu: Caring for Someone Sick at Home” and “Flu: A guide for parents of children or adolescents with chronic health conditions.”

And note that, as "How flu spreads section" warns, healthy adults can infect others even before symptoms develop.

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Learn more about becoming a patient or getting a second opinion at City of Hope by visiting our website or by calling 800-826-HOPE (4673). City of Hope staff will explain what's required for a consult at City of Hope and help you determine, before you come in, whether or not your insurance will pay for the appointment.

 

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