If you or a loved one has HIV or AIDS, you know how hard it is to prevent viral infections like the flu. And you know that complications like pneumonia can put added stress on a weakened immune system.
But you can stay well and avoid complications. You just need to know all you can about the flu and to take the easy steps to prevent it.
Why Is the Flu Serious for People With HIV/AIDS?
HIV kills or damages cells in your body's immune system, making it more difficult to fight infections like the flu virus. This means you’re more likely to get complications like pneumonia from the flu. And that can raise the odds that you’ll wind up in the hospital with heart- and lung-related problems. Flu can also be fatal.
How Can I Prevent the Flu?
The CDC recommends that high-risk groups -- people with chronic conditions like HIV or AIDS -- get the influenza vaccine from a flu shot. This is key if you’re going to be around others who might have the flu, whether it’s at home, in the workplace, or in social settings. The vaccine potentially has traces of egg protein in it but it is safe for those with egg allergies. Those who have severe allergies to eggs should receive it from a doctor who is used to treating severe allergic reactions.
The CDC says to get the flu shot instead of the nasal spray version (FluMist). The flu shot uses a dead flu virus. FluMist contains a live, weakened flu virus and is only approved for use in healthy people ages 2 to 49. It should not be used if you are severely allergic to the flu vaccine or have a weakened immune system.
When Should I Get a Flu Shot?
Flu season can begin as early as October and last as late as May. By October or November is the ideal time to be vaccinated, but you can get it as late as December.
The flu shot starts to work about 2 weeks after you get it. That’s why you need to get it early in the fall. The longer you go without it, the more likely you are to get the flu or have complications.
Do I Need a Shot Every Year?
Yes. Flu viruses change each year, so the shot you get this year may not protect you from future strains. Also, your immunity to the virus declines over time. Getting an annual shot helps boost protection.
Should I Get a Pneumonia Vaccine?
Pneumonia means any infection of the lung. The pneumonia vaccine prevents one specific type of pneumonia that’s caused by Streptococcus pneumoniae bacteria. This is the most common kind in the U.S. outside of hospitals and institutions.
The CDC says anyone at high risk for pneumonia, including those with HIV/AIDS, should get the pneumonia vaccine. There are actually two pneumococcal vaccines. Both are recommended for persons with HIV/AIDS, but they cannot be given at the same time. Talk to your doctor about your health situation and how best to receive these vaccines.
How Can I Prevent Complications?
Good hygiene can lower your chances of getting a viral or bacterial infection. Tell family members and friends to cover their mouths when they cough, wash their hands frequently, and avoid rubbing their eyes after touching surfaces.
You’ll also want to avoid crowds during flu season. To avoid extra stress on your immune system, get plenty of sleep, eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly, and avoid stress. Stay away from cigarette smoke and other things that pollute the air.
What Are Some Flu Symptoms?
Can I Take Antiviral Drugs?
The CDC says people with HIV or AIDS who are exposed to the flu should get antiviral drugs for 7 days so they don’t develop the illness. If you do get it, take antivirals within the first 2 days of getting sick. They’re available by prescription from your doctor. It’s OK to take these medications with the drugs you take to manage HIV.
When Should I Call the Doctor?
When you have HIV or AIDS, you have to take your health seriously. Talk to your doctors at the first sign of flu or other illness.