Flu Vaccines and Hospice Patients

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flu shot

Flu season begins in the fall and continues through spring, with most cases reported between December and March. The best way to prevent a flu infection is to receive the flu vaccine, but many hospice and palliative care patients find themselves uncertain about getting one.

Many patients worry that the vaccine will actually give them the flu because of their already weakened immune systems, or they believe that they don’t need one since they are already ill. The truth is, hospice and palliative care patients need flu vaccines perhaps more than any other group of people.

Flu Shot Recommendations

The CDC recommends that the following people get annual flu shots:

  • Children 6 months to 18 years of age
  • Adults over 50
  • Anyone living in a long-term care facility (nursing homes, assisted-living facilities, rehabilitation facilities, etc.)
  • Anyone with a weakened immune system
  • People who have frequent contact with the general public (health care workers, teachers, police officers, etc.)
  • Pregnant women
  • Anyone with a chronic medical condition
  • Caregivers, family members and friends of individuals considered high risk

Hospice and palliative care patients are often over 50 years old, and have chronic medical conditions and weakened immune systems. Many are also living in some type of long-term care facility. This makes hospice and palliative care patients very high risk of contracting the flu virus.

The flu itself can range from mild to severe, and in some cases can lead to death. The risk of death from the flu is increased in people whose immune system cannot effectively combat the illness. For this reason, it’s very important for hospice and palliative care patients, their caregivers, and their loved ones to get the seasonal flu vaccine.

Getting the Seasonal Flu Vaccine

Many hospice and palliative care patients can’t physically make it to the flu clinic or their regular physician to get the flu vaccine. In these cases, it’s best to talk with your hospice or palliative care nurse to make a plan for getting the vaccine. Many hospice agencies offer their patients the flu shot or will give one on request.

Hospitals and long-term care facilities almost always offer and encourage their patients to get the flu vaccine. If you are in the hospital and aren’t offered a vaccine, it’s perfectly appropriate to request one. The same goes for a long-term care facility. The more patients and staff that get vaccinated, the less likely it is a flu breakout will occur in those facilities.

Do I Have to Get the Vaccine?

You absolutely do not have to get the flu vaccine. It’s always your decision whether or not to receive the flu vaccine. If you are still concerned about the flu vaccine negatively affecting your health, it is OK to decline it. However, it’s still important for your caregivers, family and close friends to get the vaccine to prevent them from transmitting the flu virus to you.

Who Should Not Get the Vaccine?

There are some people who should not get the flu vaccine. These people include:

  • Anyone allergic to eggs
  • Anyone who’s had a previous adverse reaction to a flu vaccine
  • Anyone with a current infection or fever
  • Those with a history of Guillain-Barre Syndrome
  • Infants under 6 months of age

Can I Get the Nasal FluMist Instead of the Shot?

FluMist is a live, weakened flu virus that is inhaled in the nose through a nasal spray. Because it contains a live flu virus, it is not recommended for anyone with a weakened immune system. For this reason, it’s recommended that hospice and palliative care patients only receive the flu shot.

What’s a Normal Reaction and What’s Not?

Normal reactions to the flu shot include redness, tenderness and swelling at the injection site. It is also normal to experience a low-grade fever (a temperature under 101 degrees) and decreased energy.

Reactions that are not normal include:

  • Dizziness
  • High fever
  • Disorientation
  • Difficulty breathing or wheezing
  • Rapid heartbeat

If you experience any abnormal reactions, contact your healthcare provider.

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