More than 4% of People May be Immunocompromised – How Should They Approach Flu Season?

A recent publication from Healio detailed some of the challenges immunocompromised individuals might face during flu season. Influenza is a common and sometimes serious public health concern around the world, and awareness of how to properly prevent and treat it in immunodeficient individuals is vitally important for their health and safety.

About Immunodeficiency

Immunodeficiency is a genetically inherited or acquired condition characterized by the immune system’s inability to effectively combat bacterial, fungal, or viral interlopers. For many immunodeficient individuals, normally innocuous maladies like colds or the flu can have serious or even life-threatening implications.

Although not itself a disease, immunodeficiency is the principal symptom of a number of conditions significantly characterized by immune dysfunction that stems from different origins. Although primary immunodeficiencies (PID) like DiGeorge syndrome have different origins than acquired secondary immunodeficiencies like human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), many of the risks and potential complications can be similar.

Treatment options exist for certain types of immunodeficiency. These treatments can reduce the burden of disease on a patient, reducing the inherent risk of everyday activities like going into crowds or being in the vicinity of someone who is already sick. For some forms of immunodeficiency, cures may even exist, often in some form of stem cell therapy. However, other types of immunodeficiency can be difficult to treat effectively. For those patients the best methods of treatment are often simple prevention techniques like avoiding excessive human contact, especially during times of the year when illness is particularly common.

How the Flu Affects People who are Immunocompromised

In both completely healthy and immunocompromised individuals, the most effective means of reducing the prevalence and burden of the flu is vaccination. In fact, in the event of a vaccine shortage, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) considers immunocompromised individuals priority recipients of the flu vaccine.

Immunocompromised individuals should absolutely not, however, take the live attenuated version of the vaccine. This type of vaccination, as the name implies, uses a nasal spray solution to administer a live form of the virus (unlike injected forms).

In the event that an immunocompromised individual gets the flu, they are typically admitted to an ICU for antiviral therapy combined with neuraminidase (an enzyme) inhibitor administration.

Estimates suggest that about 4% of the population are immunocompromised — which would give a conservative estimate of 10 million people in the United States alone. Familiarity with the treatment of this growing part of the population will be an important mark of healthcare equity in the years to come.

Some immunocompromised individuals can’t receive any vaccinations. Why might it be especially important for others nearby to ensure they are vaccinated? What is the public’s role in the healthcare of the 4%? Share your thoughts with Patient Worthy!

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