How to Protect Yourself And Others From the Flu

sick woman sitting in bed and coughing

According to the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention, every year, millions of people in the United States get the flu – also known as influenza. For transplant patients, it’s important to be vigilant to protect yourself, and others, from the virus which can have very serious consequences.

Protecting others from the flu

One way to protect others from the flu is to avoid crowds when you are sick.  Because we have waiting rooms full of patients with reduced immune systems, we ask that you not come to the outpatient practices or visit inpatients if you think you may have the flu virus. The CDC notes that symptoms of the flu include:

  • Fever or feeling feverish/chills
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue (tiredness)

If you have an appointment with your transplant team and have flu symptoms, it’s recommended that you contact your transplant coordinator and make a plan to address the situation.

Protecting yourself from the flu

One of the most important steps you can take to protect yourself from the flu is to get a flu shot – also known as the influenza vaccine. Since flu seasons generally runs from October to May – there’s still time to get the vaccine but it’s important for transplant patients to know what kind of flu shot to get.

If you are a pre-transplant patient, the recommendations are to work with your primary care physician to get the flu shot annually every flu season, ideally in September. If you are a post-transplant patient, it is also recommended you get flu shot; however, transplant recipients are advised to take ONLY the “inactivated influenza vaccine” that contains killed virus and is given by injection into the muscle. Nasally inhaled (live, attenuated) vaccines are not recommended for transplant recipients because post-transplant medications reduce the immune system’s ability to protect you. In addition, the nasally inhaled vaccine is no longer recommended due to effectiveness concerns.

In addition to the getting the flu shot, here are some additional tips from the CDC to protect you from picking up the influenza virus:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too.
  • Stay home when you are sick. If possible, stay home from work, school, and errands when you are sick. This will help prevent spreading your illness to others.
  • Cover your mouth and nose. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. It may prevent those around you from getting sick.
  • Clean your hands. Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches his or her eyes, nose, or mouth.
  • Practice other good health habits. Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, work or school, especially when someone is ill. Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food.

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The Penn Medicine Transplant blog features short postings with news about the transplant program at Penn Medicine, notices about upcoming events and health information. Subscribe to the blog and stay connected with Penn's Transplant Program!

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