It’s that time of year again; as the temperature begins to drop outside we crank up the heating in our homes and offices.  This can lead to more people contracting the flu virus.

Influenza virus or ‘the flu’ as it is commonly known is a mild illness to most people resulting in a few days bed rest and over the counter medication but for those more vulnerable the effects can have a greater impact.

Cancer patients and survivors fall into this vulnerable category.  Cancer (and its treatment) can lower your resistance to infections.  Doctors call this immunosuppression or being immunocompromised, meaning your body is less able to fight off infections and you may be more at risk.

If you do catch the flu there is a higher chance of becoming very ill and secondary illness such as chest infections (pneumonia) occurring.

About Vaccination

As a viral infection the flu is mostly caught from the coughs and sneezes of people who have the virus. The symptoms of flu often come on very quickly and include:

  • a high temperature
  • aching muscles
  • a cough
  • headaches
  • tiredness

The flu vaccination makes it less likely that you will catch flu.  If you have had the vaccine and do get the flu you are likely to recover more quickly and are less likely to get complications.

The flu virus changes, so it is important that each year you need to have the vaccine again to protect yourself against the most common type of flu expected for that year.

The vaccine injection doesn’t contain the live flu virus.  This means you won’t actually catch the flu but you may develop very mild symptoms.  It is safe to have it while you are having cancer treatment.

But you should check with your doctor if you:

  • are allergic to eggs (the vaccines are prepared from viruses grown in hen’s eggs)
  • have had a reaction to a vaccine before
  • people with an egg allergy can have a flu vaccine with a very low egg content.   Ask your doctor about this.

When to have the flu vaccination

It is important to have the vaccination before the flu virus starts to circulate in the population.  This is most likely to happen during the winter months so vaccines are available from the end of September until mid-November.   However 2019 has had a mild autumn so these dates have moved a little later.  It is still also worth you having the vaccine after this time if you haven’t so check with your cancer specialist and GP.

The vaccination is free via the NHS to those that fall into the vulnerable category and those individuals who act as care givers.

You can contact your GP to find out about local clinic times. Or you might be able to have it at your local pharmacist depending on your area.

For further information please visit the NHS site for details.

*NOTE – Please seek medical advice from your Healthcare Professional before making any changes to your medication routine or feel that you’re having unexpected side-effects from the flu vaccines*