People living with chronic lung disease are among the most vulnerable during flu season. It is critical that these individuals, and people in high-risk categories, are aware of the symptoms of the flu and COVID-19, and have a plan in place with their physician well before they get sick.
Stephanie Levine, M.D., FCCP
Former President, American College of Chest Physicians
This flu season, as COVID-19 continues to spread across the country, people eligible for immunizations are encouraged to receive their influenza (flu) and COVID-19 vaccinations early for maximum protection. For those who have a lung disease, such as COPD, asthma, or pulmonary fibrosis, immunization and early detection can be lifesavers.
Lung disease symptoms, such as shortness of breath and coughing, can often mask the flu. When these symptoms are accompanied by sore throat, muscle aches, fever, nasal congestion, headache, and even nausea and vomiting, the culprit is often influenza.
Typically, the time to seek medical attention for the flu is when you first show signs of shortness of breath, chest pain, confusion, prolonged fever, and/or dehydration. There are now potential treatments available that can reduce the duration and severity of symptoms for many flu sufferers.
Chronic lung conditions can intensify the impact of both the flu and COVID-19. Those living with lung disease should work closely with their medical care team to have a plan in place in the event they begin to experience symptoms. Taking a “wait and see” approach can have serious consequences for someone with lung disease.
Viral illnesses in adults living with chronic lung disease can become severe if left unchecked, leading to hospitalization and even death. This higher risk is especially true for people over age 65, those with compromised immune systems, young children, and people who are pregnant.
While deaths from the flu have been lower than average the past two seasons, likely due to COVID-19 restrictions, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), we hit a historic high in 2017-18 with more than 52,000 deaths and 710,000 people hospitalized.
The CDC also advises that reduced population immunity due to lack of flu virus activity since March 2020 could result in an early and possibly severe flu season.
Get your shot
The best way to protect yourself is to receive vaccinations both for the flu and COVID-19.
It is important to note that these vaccinations are as much about protecting others as they are about protecting yourself. For those with a compromised immune system and children younger than 6 months, who are too young to receive the flu vaccine, their health depends on vaccinated adults, who have a lower chance of spreading the virus than unvaccinated ones.
The vaccinations for COVID-19 and the flu are proven to be safe for all eligible individuals. They are readily available and can be given at the same time.
All individuals 6 months and older are recommended to get a flu shot annually. While the best time to get the shot is in the early fall, it is not too late to get the shot throughout the flu season.
The CHEST Foundation offers patient resources for those looking to learn more about the flu, COVID-19, and other viruses that can impact lung health. Visit foundation.chestnet.org for more information.
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