December 22, 2022
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Photography by Lucas Ottone/Stocksy United
Flu season is already in full swing, and it’s shaping up to be a bad one. However, there is still time to take action to protect yourself.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that between 8 and 19 million cases of the flu occurred between October 1, 2022 and November 26, 2022. Flu cases also accounted for between 78 and 170 thousand hospitalizations and about 4,500 to 13 thousand deaths.
This can be scary news for anyone with underlying health conditions. According to the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, during the 2019 to 2020 flu season, people with pre-existing conditions accounted for about 92% of all flu-related hospitalizations.
When you’re living with a chronic illness, like MS, PsA, type 2 diabetes, or another condition, you already know you need to take some extra precautions to get through the season while keeping yourself healthy. Keep reading for details on why your risk is higher, why this flu season is particularly bad, and what you can do to protect yourself.
Living with an underlying health condition can make the flu a more serious threat. In some cases, a flu infection may cause your condition to worsen. In others, your underlying condition or treatments for it may make it easier for you to get the flu and develop complications associated with it.
For example, if you’re living with diabetes, coming down with the flu can make it more difficult to manage your condition. Complications of the flu can include worsening diabetes symptoms like poor glycemic control and acidosis.
If you’re living with inflammatory arthritis, like RA or PsA, you may find that you get sick with the flu more easily. Oddly enough, despite your immune system being in overdrive to attack your joints and other areas of the body, it actually underperforms when it comes to fighting off viruses and other germs.
The CDC warns that if you have cancer, like breast cancer, or have had it, you have a higher risk of developing flu-related complications.
If you’re living with MS, a 2020 study notes that you have an increased risk of hospitalization and worsening neurological symptoms when managing a flu infection.
With many of these conditions, there’s also a possibility your medications may put you at a higher risk of infection. Corticosteroids, some DMARDs, and biologics all work to suppress your immune system. And taking more than one medication can further increase your risk of infection.
All these statistics and warnings may feel overwhelming, but it’s important to recognize your risk and take action, especially this year.
Flu season typically runs from October to May and usually peaks between December and February each year.
This year, the cases started to grow in September, according to the New York State Department of Health. They noted widespread reports from 44 different counties at the beginning of October.
There are many possible reasons the 2022 to 2023 flu season may be worse than others.
According to a survey conducted by the National Foundation for Infectious disease, this includes attitudes toward vaccination. While 69% of those surveyed agreed that a flu vaccine is the best prevention against the flu, only 49% of survey responders planned to get vaccinated.
Vaccines are an especially important tool in flu prevention this year. Over the past few years, flu seasons have been mild, likely due to precautions surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. People were staying home, wearing masks, and limiting their exposure to the coronavirus and the flu. This year has brought a return to holiday parties, shopping, and travel that can promote the spread of infections.
While these changes mean overall cases are climbing, there are still many things you can do to decrease your risk.
The most important thing you can do is to get the flu vaccination. You can get your vaccination from several locations, including:
If you have any questions, you should be able to get the answers you’re looking for from a pharmacist or doctor. They can also help direct you to the best version of the vaccination for you. For example, if you’re 65 or older, the CDC notes that there are vaccinations that are more effective for you.
Other steps you can take to help reduce your risk of getting the flu include:
You may also want to talk with your doctor about your risk and their suggestions for you. They may recommend continuing or stopping certain medications if you become sick. They can also help you come up with a plan of action if you do get sick to help prevent serious complications or hospitalization.
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