HIV/AIDS and the Flu
|Mon, Sep 20,2010|
If you or a loved one has HIV/ AIDS, you may know how hard it is to prevent viral infections such as the flu. In addition, flu complications such as pneumonia can deteriorate the body's already compromised immune system.
To stay well and avoid flu and flu complications, it's important to understand all you can about the flu and to take the recommended prevention steps.
Why Is the Flu Serious for People With HIV/ AIDS?
The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) kills or damages cells in the body's immune system, making it more difficult to fight infections like the flu virus. Because of cell damage, people with HIV/AIDS are more likely to develop complications such as pneumonia from the flu.
Studies show an increased risk for heart- and lung-related hospitalizations in people infected with HIV during flu season as opposed to other times of the year. There's also a higher risk of flu-related deaths among people with HIV during flu season.
How Can I Prevent the Flu if I Have HIV/ AIDS?
While it is difficult for most people to prevent the flu, it is possible to reduce the risk of serious flu complications. That's why the CDC recommends that high-risk groups -- those with chronic conditions such as patients with HIV/AIDS -- should receive the influenza vaccine with a flu shot. Being vaccinated against influenza is especially important when the person with HIV/AIDS is around others, such as at home, in the workplace, or in social settings, who might have the flu.
The CDC recommends getting the flu shot instead of the live attenuated flu vaccine or FluMist. The flu shot is an inactivated vaccine (containing a killed virus) that's given with a needle. FluMist contains a weakened form of the live flu virus and is only approved for use in healthy people ages 2 to 49. Both the flu shot and FluMist cause antibodies to develop in the body. These antibodies help give added protection against the flu infection.
When Should I Get a Flu Shot?
Flu season can begin as early as October and last as late as May. October or November is the recommended time to be vaccinated, but you can still get vaccinated in December and later.
The flu shot becomes effective about two weeks after your vaccination, which is why experts recommend getting the shot early in the fall. Without the flu shot, you are at an increased risk of catching flu and having flu complications.
Should I Get a Flu Shot Each Year if I Have HIV/ AIDS?
Yes. Flu viruses change each year, so the shot you get this year may not protect you from the flu strain in following years. In addition, even if you do get sick with flu, your immunity to the flu virus declines over time. Getting an annual flu shot helps boost flu protection each year.
Should I Get a Pneumonia Vaccine if I Have HIV/ AIDS?
Pneumonia is the term to describe any infection of the lung. The "pneumonia vaccine" is given to prevent one specific type of pneumonia -- the pneumonia caused by the pneumococcus (Streptococcus pneumoniae) bacterium. Pneumonia caused by pneumococcus is the most common form of infection occurring outside of a hospital or institutional setting in the United States and is responsible for more than 6,000 deaths each year. A serious complication of pneumonia, pneumococcal meningitis, is associated with a particularly high fatality rate.
The CDC recommends that anyone at high risk for pneumonia, including those with HIV/AIDS, get the pneumonia vacce. One dosage is usually sufficient, but your doctor may recommend a second pneumonia vaccine. Talk to your doctor about your health situation.
Does Good Hygeine Help Prevent Flu Complications With HIV/ AIDS?
Because people with HIV/AIDS are more susceptible to viral and bacterial infections, it's important to always use good hygiene to reduce the chance of getting sick. Talk with your family members and friends about preventing the spread of flu viruses by covering their mouths when they cough, washing their hands frequently, and avoiding rubbing their eyes after touching surfaces.
In addition, avoid crowds during flu season. Keep your immune system healthy by getting plenty of sleep, eating a nutritious diet, exercising regularly, and avoiding stress. Also, pay attention to healthy lifestyle habits by avoiding cigarette smoke and air pollutants.
When Should I Call a Doctor for Flu With HIV/ AIDS?
Because of the nature of HIV/AIDS, any illness should be taken very seriously. Flu complications such as pneumonia can cause hospitalization and even death in some HIV/AIDS patients. Because of greatly increased risk, HIV/AIDS patients should consult their doctors at any sign of flu or other illness.
What Are Some Flu Symptoms?
The flu usually starts with the abrupt onset of fever, headache, fatigue, and body aches. Here is a list of flu symptoms that you might feel:
Can I Take Antiviral Drugs With HIV/ AIDS?
According to the CDC, people with HIV/AIDS and other high-risk individuals who are exposed to influenza should be given antiviral drugs for seven days to help prevent the development of flu. Antiviral medications are available by prescription from a doctor. While these medications may have side effects, there are no published findings showing an interaction between antiviral medications and the drugs used in managing HIV.