Influenza (the Flu)

Influenza, or “the flu,” is a highly contagious respiratory illness that is caused by a virus. For people with cystic fibrosis, getting the flu may cause a worsening of symptoms and lead to a faster decline in lung function.

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Summary
  • Influenza, or “the flu,” is a highly contagious respiratory illness that is caused by a virus. 
  • In people with cystic fibrosis, the flu can lead to a severe lung infection, like pneumonia. If you have the flu, you may feel worse than you do with a typical lung infection or pulmonary exacerbation.

The Flu and CF

In people with cystic fibrosis, the flu can lead to a severe lung infection, like pneumonia. If you have the flu, you may feel worse than you do with a typical lung infection or pulmonary exacerbation. Flu symptoms include:

  • Body aches and headache
  • Fatigue
  • Fever and chills
  • Increased cough
  • Sore throat

Contact your CF care center or doctor's office as soon as you feel flu-like symptoms. Antiviral medications used to treat people for the flu are most effective if taken within 24 hours of the start of symptoms. These drugs may help lessen your symptoms or how long you are ill.

How It Spreads

Like many germs, the flu virus can spread by direct and indirect contact and through the air. To reduce the risk of getting and spreading the flu, it is important for you and everyone around you to follow infection prevention and control practices like hand washing and getting vaccinated.

Reducing the Risk: the Flu Shot

The flu vaccine, or “flu shot,” can reduce the risk of getting the flu by helping the body fight off or increase its immunity to the flu virus.

It is best to get the flu shot early because it can take around two weeks after vaccination for the body to build up its immunity to protect itself against the flu virus. The best time to get the flu shot is in September through October, but getting vaccinated in December or January is still helpful as flu season can last until spring.

Did you know that when more people receive the flu shot, there is a better chance of reducing its spread? Learn more.

It is important to get the flu shot every year because flu viruses are always changing. The flu vaccine cannot prevent all types of the flu virus, but it remains the best way to reduce the risk of getting the flu viruses that are most likely to make you sick during the current flu season.

People with CF can usually get their flu shot at a CF Foundation-accredited care center, through primary care providers, and many pharmacies. Talk with your CF care team to find out whether it has the vaccine available. You can also find the closest place to get a seasonal flu vaccine from the Flu Vaccine Finder.

The flu shot does not give you the flu because the viruses in the flu shot are killed (inactivated). The risk of the flu shot causing serious harm is very small. However, like any vaccine, you could have mild side effects, which may include:

  • Soreness or mild aches
  • Redness or swelling where the shot was given
  • A low-grade fever

If these problems happen, they will begin shortly after the shot was given and usually last one to two days. However, if you are not feeling better or start to feel worse, call your doctor.

If you do get the flu, you should stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone. The fever should be gone without using a fever-reducing medicine, like acetaminophen (brand names include Tylenol®). A fever is defined as 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius) or higher. Children should not take aspirin if they have the flu or any viral infection.

Everyone Should Get the Flu Shot

Because the flu is highly contagious, encourage everyone around you, especially family members or people who live with you, to also get vaccinated to reduce the risk of getting and spreading the flu virus.

Children ages 6 months through 8 years may need two shots of the flu vaccine annually to fully protect them against the flu. Experts generally recommend four weeks between the two shots. However, ask your doctor if your child needs one or two flu shots and how far apart they should be given.

Nasal Flu Vaccine Spray

The Nasal flu vaccine spray (brand names include FluMist®) is sprayed into the nose and contains live but weakened flu viruses. The safety of the flu vaccine spray has not been established in people who have a lung disease like CF or asthma. The spray is only approved for people ages 2 to 49 years who do not have a history of severe allergic reaction to any component of the vaccine.

Reducing the Risk: Other Best Practices

In addition to getting the flu shot, the following recommendations are intended to help people with CF reduce the risk of getting and spreading germs, like the flu.

  • Clean your hands: Use soap and water to wash your hands or clean them with an alcohol-based hand gel (especially after coughing or sneezing). This will help protect you and others around you.
  • Cover your cough: Use a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue away immediately, then wash your hands with soap and water or clean them with an alcohol-based hand gel. If you don't have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your inner elbow. If you cough or sneeze into your hands, wash them immediately afterward.
  • Keep a safe distance: Try to stay at least 6 feet away from anyone who has a cold, the flu, or an infection in all settings, both outdoors and especially indoors, such as in school or at work. If you do get sick, staying home will allow you to get rest and recover. It will also help prevent spreading flu to others.
  • Practice other good health habits: Get plenty of sleep, drink plenty of fluids, eat nutritious food, be physically active, and manage your stress.

For seasonal flu information, visit the CDC's website.

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