Swine Flu and Asthma
Experts discuss the risk of swine flu complications faced by asthma patients.
How can people with asthma protect themselves from the swine flu?
Don't wait until you're sick to take action. It's never too early to prepare yourself for the swine flu. Talk to your doctor about creating -- and updating -- a personal Asthma Action Plan as soon as possible. "People with asthma should talk to their doctor and have a clearly delineated plan, and preferably a written plan, on what actions to take should they suspect they are developing an H1N1 infection," says Li. That plan may involve monitoring your peak flow rates at home and having an inhaler or nebulizer on hand in case your asthma flares up.
Also practice a few simple hygiene tips to avoid getting sick:
- Wash your hands throughout the day (and whenever you cough or sneeze) with soap and water, or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
- Avoid putting your hands on your nose or mouth.
- Stay away from anyone who appears to be sick.
- If you think you might be coming down with the flu, stay at home and rest until you feel better.
What symptoms should people with asthma look out for?
The symptoms of the swine flu look a lot like symptoms of the regular flu, so it's often hard to tell them apart. In general, watch out for these symptoms:
- Sore throat
- Muscle aches
- Nasal congestion
- Vomiting and diarrhea in some people
In people with asthma, the following breathing symptoms can also develop:
- Shortness of breath or irregular breathing
- Tightness in the chest
Because having asthma increases the risk of serious complications from H1N1, call your doctor right away if you have a high fever or are having difficulty breathing.
Should everyone with asthma get the H1N1 vaccine?
Yes. Just about everyone with asthma should receive the H1N1 vaccine, according to Li. The only exceptions are people who currently have a fever, those with a severe allergy to chicken egg, or who have had a severe reaction after a previous flu vaccination (including a rare neurological disorder called Guillain-Barre syndrome).
Don't forget that asthma also poses a higher risk for complications from the seasonal flu. Even so, many people with asthma skip the seasonal flu vaccine. Only about 40% of adults with asthma got vaccinated during the 2006-2007 flu season. The H1N1 flu virus will be included in the seasonal flu vaccine for the 2010-2011 flu season. Until then, however, protect yourself by getting both flu vaccines (remember that the seasonal flu vaccine does not provide immunity against swine flu).