Swine Flu and Chronic Conditions
Experts explain the risks of swine flu for people with chronic health conditions.
Is everyone with a chronic condition at equal risk for swine flu?
"Anything that can affect the health of a person is going to be more of a
concern for people with underlying illnesses," says Aaron E. Glatt, MD,
president and CEO of New Island Hospital in New York, and a professor of
clinical medicine. "People who're at an especially higher risk are those with
underlying heart and lung diseases, or a compromised
Also at greater risk are "people whose immune systems are not well," says
Stubbs, such as those coping with AIDS or
chemotherapy, as well as children under 5. Because children this age haven't
been exposed to as many viruses, "we put them in the same category as those
with chronic illnesses," Stubbs says.
If you're coping with a chronic illness, you "should take the risk of this
flu very seriously," says Glatt.
Should people with chronic conditions get a swine flu vaccine, when it's available?
In the U.S., H1N1 swine flu
vaccine started to become available in October 2009, although vaccine
production was much slower than predicted. Until there's enough vaccine for
everyone, experts are recommending that the vaccine should first be given
- Health care workers and emergency medical responders
- People caring for infants under 6 months of age
- Children and young adults from 6 months to 24 years
- People aged 25 to 64 years with underlying medical conditions, such as
asthma or diabetes
As with the seasonal flu vaccine, there may be people who shouldn't get the
swine flu vaccine, including those with severe egg allergies or allergies to previous flu vaccines, the very
young, and those with extremely compromised health.
The swine flu vaccine won't protect against seasonal flu, so it's important
to remember that you'll need two flu vaccinations this season, not one.
How can those with a chronic illness protect themselves until a swine flu vaccine is available?
Swine flu spreads like the seasonal flu: primarily through droplets from
coughs and sneezes. That's why tips for avoiding the swine flu are the same as
those for avoiding the seasonal flu, and include:
- Wash your hands frequently.
- Avoid people sick with the flu.
- When a vaccine becomes available, get vaccinated.
And if you're not feeling
well, stay home until at least 24 hours after your symptoms go away.