Influenza (the flu) Season is upon us, so Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) patients should protect themselves. Infectious diseases are the second most common causes of death among people with CKD, behind Cardiovascular Disease because they have a decreased immune response. Matters are worse for those on dialysis where infection accounts for a large portion of hospitalizations and individuals are three to four times more likely to contract pneumonia as well as worsen already existent health problems which can lead to life-threatening complications after catching the flu. Adults with CKD will likely be interested in the following steps to preemptively protect against the flu and limit chances of getting severely sick.
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A flu shot is the foremost precaution recommended to CKD patients to protect themselves against getting the flu. Dr. Jeffrey L. Hymes, MD stated “It’s important for all kidney patients to be vaccinated against the flu because of the serious health complications it can cause.” Results from a 2003 Kidney International study revealed that not only vaccination rates in End Stage Renal Disease (ESRD) patients were less than 50% (numbers may be higher now), but also Influenza vaccinations were associated with a lower risk of hospitalization and death. Flu shots are readily available and have been shown to be effective, though underutilized. You may consider getting the flu shot soon, as it is touted as the "single best way to prevent the flu," but individuals with CKD only take an inactivated vaccine (containing the killed virus). The Flu Season runs from early October to May so the best time to get vaccinated is between October and November.
To further avoid catching or spreading the flu this season consider washing your hands more often and thoroughly than usual with soap and warm water, and carry a small bottle of hand sanitizer for occasions when you cannot get to the restroom. Do not touch your eyes, nose or mouth because you can get infected by touching something that is contaminated with germs and then touching sensitive areas on your body. Cover your coughs and sneezes in a tissue or in your arm or sleeve, but do not use your hands to prevent spreading germs to yourself and others. Also, avoid close contact with people who are sick. You should explain to your loved one (spouse, child or grandchild) your sensitivity to the flu and share with them ways to stay as healthy as possible. Make sure that during this season you are very particular about following a good healthy lifestyle by getting plenty of sleep, limiting your stress, staying hydrated while managing any fluid restriction you may have, eating nutritious foods within your renal diet and remaining as physically active as you personally can.
The Public Health Agency of Canada does not recommend wearing surgical masks for protecting against the flu because people often use masks incorrectly such as putting them on and taking them off which could cause contamination and actually increase your risk of infection. Only people who are ill or exhibiting flu-like symptoms should wear face masks to protect those in close contact to them.
If you have signs of the flu when you come in for dialysis, KidneyBuzz.com recommends that you tell your caregivers before entering the clinic, so that they can provide you with a mask to protect other patients, staff and yourself. Typical symptoms include headache, chills, cough followed by fever, loss of appetite, muscle aches and fatigue, runny nose, sneezing, watery eyes and throat irritation. Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea may also occur. Be sure to contact your Nephrologist immediately to receive further advice and stay home while avoiding others with the exception of medical appointments, to protect yourself and prevent the flu from getting worse. If you feel as though you are susceptible to negative side effects from a flu shot, then consult you Nephrologist before you agree to take the vaccine.
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"Important Information about H1N1 Flu Virus and People with Chronic Kidney Disease." The Kidney Foundation of Canada.
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