It’s that time of year again. Nights are drawing in and the temperatures are dropping. Winter is certainly coming. And along with winter comes the usual array of coughs and sneezes, including flu. Getting an annual flu vaccine is the best way to protect yourself from the flu. But what about if you have cancer? Is it safe? Why is the flu vaccine so important? In this blog, our expert information development nurse Richard answers these questions.
Flu is very infectious. It’s spread mainly by coughs and sneezing. The infection is caused by a virus that can cause unpleasant illness in children and severe illness among at-risk groups. This includes older people, pregnant women and those with an underlying medical health condition, such as cancer.
We all know that having flu isn’t very nice. The symptoms often come on quickly and people usually feel very unwell. Healthy people normally recover within a week or so. But if you are in an at-risk group, flu can lead to very serious complications, such as pneumonia.
The vaccine is the best way to prevent the virus. It is given by injection under the skin. The vaccine doesn't stop all flu viruses so it is not a 100% guarantee that you will be flu-free all winter. But if you do get flu after having the vaccination it's likely to be milder and shorter-lived than it would otherwise have been.
Who should have the flu vaccine?It is recommended that people at risk of flu (or its complications) have the vaccine. This includes:
It is also recommended for adults who care for, or live with, someone who is in one of these at-risk groups.
Having the flu vaccineThe flu injection is available free on the NHS to:
You can get the vaccine at your GP surgery or from a local pharmacy that offers the service. If you are not in one of the at-risk-groups, you may have to pay for the vaccine.
Is it safe for people with cancer?The vaccine is safe for most people who have cancer. It does not contain any live flu virus, so you won’t get flu from the vaccine.
Your cancer doctor or specialist nurse may suggest that you have the vaccine. This is because having cancer or its treatment can weaken your immune system. This can increase your risk of getting an infection, including the flu. If you get flu while your immune system is weakened, there is a risk that you can become very ill.
If you are having cancer treatment that is likely to affect your immune system, it is very important to protect yourself from flu. If you are worried, talk to your doctor or nurse – ask them if it would be a good idea to have the vaccine.
It’s best to have the vaccine before you start a treatment that is going to weaken your immune system. Ideally you should have the flu jab at least two weeks before starting the treatment. This isn’t always possible, in which case the vaccine can be given at any time.
Your immune system won’t be back to full strength for a few months after cancer treatment, so it’s important to get the vaccine even if you are no longer having any treatment. Your cancer doctor or nurse can give you more information.
Are there any side effects? Your arm may be a little sore after the injection. And you may have a mild fever and aching muscles for a couple of days. But anything more than that is very rare.
You shouldn’t have a flu vaccine if you have had an allergic reaction to it before.
Where can I get further information?Your cancer doctor, nurse specialist and GP can all give you further info about the flu jab. You can also read about it on the NHS website.
Getting more information supportIf you would like more information support, you can call our cancer information specialist between 9am and 8pm, Monday to Friday on 0808 808 00 00. There is also lots of support available on the Online Community, especially if you are feeling down or in need of a friendly ear.
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<p>Hi everyone, thank you for your comments. If you are unsure whether you, or the people close to you, should have a flu jab, the best people to ask for more information are your cancer doctor or specialist nurse. Everyone’s situation will be different, depending on treatments you are having and where you are in your treatment schedule, and they should be able to give you advice. If you are given different answers from different professionals, check with them again and ask them to explain their advice. Hope this helps, Elissia</p>
<p>As with Namod, my oncologist has said I should have had the jab before starting Chemo, but I was "missed" and not to have it now. However, the jab doesn't suit everyone. My wife has been having it every year, but the last two years it has actually given her flue type symptoms. Last year she was really ill for 3-4 weeks after the jab, so she's not having any more. According to one of are health care team, around 3 years the swine flue inoculation was added to the vaccine, and this ties in with her getting "flue" after having the jab. <br />Interestingly, my youngest son, who is still at primary school, was due to have the vaccine a few months ago, but we were advised for him not to as we (me and the wife) are high risk (I believe children get a nasal spray which does works in a different way).</p>
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