"If you have asthma and experience symptoms such as fever, headache, fatigue, sore throat, dry cough, nasal congestion and body aches, call your doctor immediately to determine if treatment is needed. If symptoms are caught early, antiviral drugs can be used to combat the virus and help prevent complications."

Asthma and Flu

If you or someone in your family has asthma, you need to take steps to prevent both swine (H1N1) and seasonal influenza.

Influenza, also called the flu, is a contagious respiratory illness caused by viruses. Millions of people in the United States – about 5 percent to 20 percent of Americans– will get the flu each year. Unlike many other viral respiratory infections, such as the common cold, the flu can cause severe illness and life-threatening complications. Each year, about 36,000 Americans die from the flu. The risk is greater for very young children, people age 65 and older, and people who have other serious health conditions such as asthma.

Recently, a strain of flu called swine (H1N1) flu emerged in the United States and around the world. In June, the World Health Organization declared the swine flu a pandemic due to the spread of the virus which has resulted in 40,000 reported cases and 263 deaths in the United States. According to the CDC, a large number of cases have gone unreported. The agency estimates that at least 1 million people in the U.S. have been infected since the outbreak.

Why is the flu more dangerous in people with asthma?

Because asthma, seasonal flu and swine flu are respiratory conditions, people with asthma may have more frequent and severe asthma attacks while they have the flu resulting in a more severe case and longer recovery.

How is the flu spread and what are its symptoms?

The flu is a contagious disease that attacks the respiratory tract, including the nose, throat and lungs. Symptoms of both seasonal and swine flu include:
• fever
• headache
• fatigue
• dry cough
• sore throat
• stuffy nose
• body aches

Seasonal flu is spread when an infected person coughs or sneezes, spraying droplets into the air and onto nearby people. It can also be spread by touching droplets on another person or object and then touching your own mouth or nose before washing your hands. Infected people can spread the virus one day before getting symptoms and up to seven days after getting sick. The swine flu virus is thought to be spread the same way, according to the CDC.

What should you do if you get the flu?

If you have any symptoms of the flu, call your doctor right away to find out if treatment is needed. If symptoms are caught early, antiviral drugs can be used to combat the virus and help prevent complications.

How can you prevent the flu?

The best way to prevent the flu is to get vaccinated. This is very important for those who have other health conditions such as asthma. The vaccine works by triggering the development of antibodies that fight the flu virus when the body is exposed to it. This year, asthma patients should get both a swine flu shot and a seasonal flu shot.

Anyone with asthma or other chronic health conditions should get the injection form of the seasonal flu vaccine rather than the nose spray. It is an activated vaccine (containing killed virus). The best time to get a seasonal flu shot is in October or November, because it typically takes about two weeks for sufficient antibodies to develop. Those who are allergic to eggs should consult their doctor before receiving either the flu shot or the nasal spray flu vaccine.

The exact timing of the availability of the H1N1 vaccine is unknown, but it may be after the seasonal flu shot is ready.

In addition to the vaccine, the CDC recommends the following steps for protecting yourself from the flu:
• Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
• Wash your hands often with soap and water, especially after you cough or sneeze. Alcohol-based hand cleaners also are effective.
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
• Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
• Stay home if you are sick for seven days after your symptoms begin or until you have been symptom-free for 24 hours, whichever is longer.
• Follow public health warnings regarding school closures, avoiding crowds or other measures.
• Be prepared in case you need to stay home for a week so by having the supplies you may need to take care of yourself.

When is flu season?

In the United States, peak seasonal flu season months are December, January, February and March but flu season can start in November. For the past 26 years, February has had the most cases of seasonal flu, according to the CDC.

In most parts of the U.S., flu season does not correspond with periods of peak pollen counts, which can trigger and aggravate asthma in those who are allergic.