Health officials say the flu can produce serious health issues for people with breathing-related medical conditions.
It’s just a jab in the arm.
But every flu season, a number of people don’t get the flu shot.
People with asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) are especially vulnerable if they catch the flu.
Despite this, a recent survey out of the United Kingdom indicates that a significant number of people with asthma don’t plan on getting vaccinated this year.
Slightly more than 1,000 adults with asthma were polled in the survey, conducted by the charity Asthma UK.
Nearly a quarter of respondents — 23 percent — said they weren’t planning on getting vaccinated. They gave a variety of reasons, ranging from doubt in the vaccine’s abilities to side effects to a distaste for getting shots.
Needless to say, doctors are concerned.
“People with asthma who are shunning the flu jab could be playing Russian roulette with their life,” Dr. Andy Whittamore, clinical lead at Asthma UK, said in the release.
“Unfortunately, there are lots of myths about the flu jab not working, causing side effects or causing flu, and our research shows this is preventing people from getting it,” he added.
A bout with influenza is a rough experience for just about anyone.
But it’s even worse for people with breathing problems such as asthma or COPD.
“While the flu for most is debilitating, for asthmatics and those with any chronic illness, it can be deadly,” Dr. Purvi Parikh, allergist and immunologist with the Allergy & Asthma Network, told Healthline. “In asthmatics and COPD patients, the flu can trigger a life-threatening asthma attack or COPD exacerbation.”
In short, asthma and COPD can place significant stress on the body — and if the flu is added into the mix, things can get even worse.
Patel says that people with asthma are more likely to have their airways constrict due to inflammation when they’re fighting a case of the flu.
“Eighty thousand people died in the U.S. last year from flu, so it is not a benign virus,” emphasizes Parikh. “If you are asthmatic, you are at higher risk of all complications of the flu.”
These complications, says Parikh, can include hospitalization, secondary pneumonia, admission to the intensive care unit due to respiratory failure — and even death.
Flu season strikes during the cold months.
While the dates can fluctuate, doctors tend to see an uptick in flu cases starting in November, while things peak in January and February.
Severity of the dominant flu strain can also vary, but the United States in particular is coming off a severe season.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that the 2017 to 2018 flu season was the first to be classified as “high severity” across every age group.
The number of people who get vaccinated varies from year to year. But with the number of vaccinated adults in the United States ranging in the 38 to 44 percent range over the past few flu seasons, it’s hardly enough to promote effective herd immunity.
The flu shot is free in the United Kingdom, where the asthma survey originated.
In the United States, the immunization may come with a cost depending on healthcare coverage. For the uninsured, the cost of an annual vaccine ranges from $5 to $30.
For those who are wary of getting the flu shot, the CDC has a section on their website devoted to debunking misconceptions about the vaccine.
There’s no doubt that the winter months are a fraught time when it comes to getting sick.
For those with asthma or COPD, influenza is just one ailment to be concerned about.
“The CDC recommends pneumococcal vaccine (Pneumovax 23) for all asthmatics and COPD patients over 18,” said Parikh. “Strep pneumoniae is the bacteria most commonly responsible for a bacterial pneumonia, for which these patients are at higher risk.”
The common cold can also be a trigger for asthma attacks, so Parikh recommends that people with asthma wash their hands more frequently and stay away from sick people who might infect them.
Ultimately, it’s a global effort to minimize the risks of flu season. But it starts on a small scale, with individuals making the decision to get immunized.
With asthma affecting 1 in 12 people in the United States, it’s doubly important for this at-risk population to protect themselves.
“Never take your breathing lightly,” said Parikh. “Ten people die from asthma on a daily basis in the U.S. alone.”
Health officials are recommending everyone get a flu shot.
However, they say it’s especially important for people with asthma or COPD.
That’s because people with those ailments are more likely to develop serious health issues if they come down with a case of the flu.