Flu season is upon us, meaning it’s time to start thinking about getting your annual flu shot. The recommendation is for everyone to get vaccinated each year, especially infants and senior adults. But for heart patients, should you get a flu shot as well? We asked Dr. Peyton Card, internal medicine, if the recommendation was any different for heart patients. Read on for what he suggests.
Q: What are the recommendations for heart patients when it comes to the flu shot?
A: Cardiac patients in general should all get vaccinated against the flu every year (like the general patient population).
Q: Are heart patients at a higher risk for complications if they get the flu?
A: Patients with multiple medical comorbidities (including diseases like CHF or COPD) and patients that are elderly or very young are at higher risk for complications from the flu.
Q: Overall, why are flu shots important for adults?
A: Flu shots are important to minimize your risk of catching the flu virus, which can lead to other medical complications or even death. Getting vaccinated also limits your chance of infecting other chronically ill patients that may not be eligible to get the vaccine.
Q: Does the flu shot cause the flu?
A: The flu shot does not cause the flu! It can cause some mild short-lived symptoms like a sore arm, muscle aches and low-grade fever, but does not cause the flu.
Q: Is the flu nasal spray as effective as the shot?
A: The effectiveness of the nasal spray has varied from year to year, but for this season the nasal spray is approved for use by the CDC in non-pregnant patients that are between ages 2-49 that do not have other reasons not to use it (like being immunocompromised).
The nasal spray is a live virus vaccine, and this should not be given to anyone without a fully functioning immune system (for example, people on chronic steroid therapy, undergoing cancer treatment, or with conditions like HIV/AIDS) or to pregnant patients. There are some other medical conditions that are contraindications to the nasal spray vaccine and patients should discuss this with their doctor before using it.
Q: Can you still catch the flu even if you’ve had a shot or the spray?
A: Both the shot and spray are designed to provide immunity to what are predicted to be the most likely three or four strains of the flu virus for that year. It is still possible to catch the flu from one of the other strains of the virus, but those strains should ideally have a lower exposure risk.
Immune response from the vaccine varies between patients, but even if you catch the flu from one of the strains you were vaccinated against, it will likely cause the illness to be less severe than it would have been if you were not vaccinated. The vaccine provides reduced chance of death, reduced chance of being admitted to the ICU and reduced length of hospitalization.
If you have more questions or want to learn more about living a healthier lifestyle, check out our posts on heart health tips.