Every year, millions of individuals find that they have contracted the influenza virus, more commonly known as the flu. While many recover from the flu without incident, the CDC reports that many individuals require additional medical care for the flu, and for some, the flu can be fatal. News sources, organizational websites, and online blogs often caution that children and the elderly are at risk of suffering serious effects from the flu. Along with these individuals, however, is another group that needs to take extra caution during flu season—those with immune deficiencies.

Patients with serious and chronic conditions are predisposed to having a compromised immune system to fight common infections like the flu. Some examples of patients with weakened immune systems include those with leukemia, hepatitis, multiple myeloma, or who have had or are undergoing treatment for cancer. These patients are likely to be immune deficient and more susceptible to serious effects from the flu. As a result, it is crucial that individuals with these and other conditions make sure to use preventative measures during flu season to avoid contracting the influenza virus.

The importance of vaccination

The effects of the flu are likely to be much more severe in patients who have a compromised immune system. This can manifest in numerous ways. In some, the flu may result in typical flu symptoms that are harsher and have a longer duration; whereas in others, the consequences may be more serious. For instance, contracting the flu virus can allow for secondary infections such as bacterial pneumonia and is more likely to result in more dire consequences for the immunocompromised patient. Keeping this in mind, it is extremely important that immunocompromised patients take all necessary precautions to avoid the flu, including receiving the flu vaccine.

Those who need the vaccine

Because the vaccine typically takes two weeks for the patient to develop immunity, vaccination should be administered before flu season. However, not all those who are immune deficient should receive the vaccine. According to the American Cancer Society, those who have recently received a bone marrow or stem cell transplant should not receive the influenza vaccine until six months have passed since the procedure. Also, those who are undergoing chemotherapy should not receive the vaccine, unless it can be administered at least two weeks before treatment begins.

Along with patients with immune deficiencies, all those who interact with these individuals regularly—caregivers, family members, friends, and health care professionals with direct patient contact—should be vaccinated as well to help prevent any live virus from reaching the patient.

Types of vaccines
There are currently two different types of flu vaccine: a nasal spray and a shot. The nasal spray is a live, attenuated influenza vaccine (LAIV), meaning that it contains a live form of the flu virus that has been modified so it has lost its disease-causing ability. The flu shot, on the other hand, contains a deactivated (or “killed”) form of the flu virus and is recommended for use by those whose immune systems are compromised.

In addition, those who regularly interact with an immunocompromised patient should also elect to receive the flu shot because it has proven to be more effective at mounting a strong immune response against the flu virus. Experts are not recommending that any individuals opt for the nasal spray for the 2017-2018 flu season due to its lack of effectiveness against certain strains of the flu.

Resources

About Kids Health

Cancer.org – 1, 2

CDC – 1, 2, 3

CDC – About Flu

CDC – Prevention and Control of Influenza with Vaccines

National Center for Biotechnology Information