‘The flu shot isn’t just about you’

By Bo Jungmayer & Sabin Russell of Fred Hutch
Tuesday, January 15, 2019
Caregiver with man.

Flu season is here, and it is not too late to get vaccinated.

According to a recent KUOW story, Columbia University predicts a spike in flu activity in the Seattle area over the next four weeks.

Dr. Shawn West, a medical director at Premera Blue Cross, said that flu vaccines are important to keep the community healthy.

“The flu shot isn’t just about you, it’s about your coworker with asthma who had to go to the ER after they were infected,” he said. “It’s about the outward waves of illness you can’t see, affecting all of those you interact with before you even feel sick."

In Washington state, there have already been six flu-related deaths this season. If you do come down with the flu, West shares that you should plan to stay home and be in bed for 7 to 10 days.

Protect cancer patients

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2017’s particularly virulent flu killed an estimated 80,000 Americans. Each year, influenza is blamed for up to 650,000 deaths worldwide.

Cancer patients are particularly vulnerable to infections because their immune systems may be weakened by radiation therapy, chemotherapy or cancer itself.

To better protect cancer patients, every doctor and nearly every employee at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA) gets a flu shot each year, said Dr. Steve Pergam, a medical director of infection prevention at SCCA.

They take this seriously because these employees are in close contact with the cancer patients throughout the day and could potentially expose them to infection if not vaccinated. And it’s not just the doctors and nurses, but the food service personnel and custodial staff as well.

But Pergam, who is also a researcher at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center (Fred Hutch), noted that people with cancer are most at risk of getting infected from their family members or colleagues at work.

"If someone drops off a tray of food, your exposure is short,” he explained. “But if you have an infected person sleeping in the same bed with you, sharing meals with you, sitting in the same car as you, watching TV on the same couch, your likelihood of getting the flu is much higher.”

This is why SCCA and Fred Hutch are highlighting the importance of getting the annual vaccine to patients, employees and their family members.

Pergam also stressed that if someone comes down with flu symptoms, they should stay home from work, school or other gatherings. “We all need to remember that it is never obvious who in these settings might be a cancer patient or someone caring for a cancer patient at home.”

What can you do?

If you are experiencing flu symptoms, contact your provider. In addition, Premera members have telehealth benefits including Teladoc.

Bo Jungmayer is in Corporate Communications at Premera Blue Cross. Excerpts from this story were originally published by Hutch News on October 24, 2018. Sabin Russell is a staff writer at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. 

Jungmayer-blog


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