By Heart Failure Nurse Saida Jennell Steiner, RN, BSN
Did you know that heart disease increases a person’s risk of complications from influenza? Flu complications can range from pneumonia and bronchitis to lung failure, heart attack and even death. It can also worsen some medical conditions, including heart failure.
If you’re living with heart failure or other cardiovascular disease, getting the flu shot is the single best way to protect yourself from the virus and potentially severe complications. Reducing the spread of flu and other respiratory illnesses is more important than ever as this flu season is coinciding with the COVID-19 pandemic.
The 2020-2021 flu season is well under way, but it’s not too late to get your flu shot. As long as flu viruses are circulating, vaccination should continue — even in January and through February, when flu activity typically peaks in our area.
- Getting sick with the flu can worsen medical conditions including heart failure, diabetes and asthma.
- Flu shots are safe for most people who are living with heart disease. However, the nasal-spray flu vaccine, which is made with a live virus, isn't recommended for people with heart disease or who are age 65 and older.
- Vaccination has been associated with lower rates of some cardiac events among people with heart failure — particularly among those who had had a cardiac event in the past year.
Before Getting a Flu Shot
Talk with your doctor before getting a flu shot if:
- You have or think you have COVID-19.
- You expect to get a COVID-19 vaccine within the next 2 weeks.
- You've had a serious allergic reaction to flu vaccine in the past.
- You have a history of developing Guillain-Barre syndrome after receiving a flu shot.
- You have a fever; vaccinations are never recommended when you’re sick.
Getting a Flu Shot
The flu shot is usually given as an injection in the upper arm. Some people develop temporary side effects, such as mild soreness at the injection site, muscle aches or a mild fever. Over-the-counter pain relievers can be used to relieve symptoms, unless contraindicated.
Flu shots are available through primary care doctors, Sarasota Memorial Urgent Care Center locations, public health departments and some retail pharmacies. It's best to call ahead to determine whether the flu vaccine is available and whether you need an appointment.
Protecting Yourself and Loved Ones
Although the flu vaccine isn't 100% effective, it's still your best defense against the flu and it’s essential for people with asthma, heart disease and diabetes, who are at higher risk of developing serious complications from flu and serious outcomes from COVID-19.
If you live with or care for someone who has heart disease, it's a good idea to make sure you get a yearly flu vaccine, too. Getting one helps lower the risk of infection for yourself and those around you.
CDC on Flu & Heart Disease
AHA on Flu & Heart Disease
Saida Jennell Steiner, RN, BSN, is a Heart Failure Nurse at Sarasota Memorial Hospital. You can learn more about SMH’s Heart Failure program at smh.com/heart.