Staying Healthy During Flu Season: Advice for People Living with HIV/AIDS

Content From: Ronald Valdiserri, M.D., M.P.H., Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health, Infectious Diseases, and Director, Office of HIV/AIDS Policy, U.S. Department of Health and Human ServicesPublished: December 05, 20114 min read


Ronald Valdiserri

Dr. Ronald ValdiserriFlu season is upon us; so, it's time for everyone in the HIV/AIDS community to prepare.

We all know that that the flu can make anyone sick. But did you know that people with long-term health conditions—including HIV/AIDS as well as asthma, diabetes (type 1 and 2), and heart disease—are at greater risk for serious complications from the flu? Studies have shown an increased risk for heart and lung-related hospitalizations in people infected with HIV during influenza season and a higher risk of influenza-related death in HIV-infected people.

People living with HIV/AIDS (PLWH/A) as well as those who work with PLWH/A should follow CDC’s recommended three-step approach to fighting the flu: vaccination, everyday preventive actions, and, if you get the flu, use of antiviral drugs if your doctor prescribes them.

  1. Get a flu vaccinationFlu activity usually peaks in January or February in the United States and can last as late as May. As long as flu season isn’t over, it’s not too late to get vaccinated. With flu activity increasing and family and friends gathering for the holidays, now is a great time to get a flu vaccine to protect yourself and your loved ones.
    • Yearly vaccination is the best protection against contracting the flu. CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccine for everyone 6 months of age and older as the first and most important step in protecting against flu viruses.
    • The 2011-2012 flu vaccine protects against three different flu viruses.
    • There are two types of flu vaccine. People living with HIV should get the “flu shot” – an inactivated vaccine that is given with a needle. The other type of flu vaccine – nasal spray flu vaccine (also called LAIV or live attenuated influenza vaccine) is NOT currently approved for use in HIV-infected persons.
    • Even if you got a flu shot last year, you need another one to protect against flu this season. “Everyone needs to get vaccinated with this season’s vaccine because immunity from last season’s vaccine will have declined” says Dr. Anne Schuchat, Assistant Surgeon General and CDC’s Director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. “You need to get vaccinated with this season’s vaccine to best protect against flu this season. People who do not are risking a possibly long and serious illness, as well as placing their close contacts at risk for the flu.”
    • Flu vaccines are offered in many locations, including doctor’s offices, clinics, health departments, pharmacies, and college health centers, as well as by many employers, and in some schools. Even if you don’t have a regular doctor or nurse, you can get a flu vaccine somewhere else. Find locations near year by entering your ZIP Code into the flu vaccine locator.
  2. Everyday Preventive ActionsTo reduce your risk of flu infection:
    • Try to minimize contact with other persons who might be ill with flu.
    • Wash your hands often with soap and water. Alcohol-based hand cleaners are also effective.
    • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.
    • Follow local public health advice regarding school closures, avoiding crowds and other social distancing measures based on illness in specific communities.
    • Maintain your health and, if prescribed, continue to take antiretrovirals or antimicrobial prophylaxis against opportunistic infection.
  3. If You Develop Flu-Like SymptomsSymptoms of flu include fever (though not everyone with flu will have a fever), cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, and sometimes diarrhea and vomiting. If you have HIV/AIDS and you develop flu-like symptoms, contact your healthcare provider or seek medical care.Your doctor may recommend treatment with prescription antiviral drugs, which can make the flu milder and shorten the time you are sick. However, antiviral drugs are not a substitute for getting a flu vaccine. While not 100% effective, a flu vaccine is the first and best way to prevent influenza. Antiviral drugs are a second line of defense to treat the flu if you get sick.

Get a Flu Vaccine, Not the FluOnce vaccinated, you can enjoy this holiday season knowing that you have taken the single best step to protect yourself and your loved ones against the flu. Remember, the “Flu Ends With U”. Get a flu vaccine, not the flu.Learn more about PLWH/A and the flu, National Influenza Vaccine Week and access materials to share with clients, family and friends at the CDC’s website and on