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Flu Season: Preparing and Protecting the Immune System When You Have Multiple Myeloma
Posted: Nov 17, 2018
Flu Season: Preparing and Protecting the Immune System When You Have Multiple Myeloma image

It's flu season--which means that sicknesses from mild to severe are constantly spreading from person to person. Whether it be the coffee shop down the street or the clinic, it seems as if no where is safe from those pesky germs and viruses. During this season, myeloma patients must take extra precautions to avoid illnesses.

Last year at the American Society of Hematology's annual conference, Dr. Andrew Branagan presented a study called the “Shivering 2 Trial”. It found that in 2016, persons with plasma cell disorders, i.e.multiple myeloma, do not get enough protection from the flu--even after getting the high dose shot.  We have compromised immunity to start with and many  myeloma patients tend to be older and have other pre-existing health challenges. In these cases, we will have weaker, shorter-term response to the vaccine.  We need six months of full immunity to be protected through a normal flu season, yet myeloma patients start losing their seroprotection early, some after just one month.

Dr. Branagan described the study:

Forty-eight patients received a single standard of care influenza vaccination and 74 patients received two doses of Fluzone High-Dose vaccine. Median age was 67 years (range 42-90). Following the second vaccine, rates of total seroprotection (against all 3 influenza vaccine strains) were 86.3% for patients who received two high dose vaccines and 63.9% for standard vaccination patients. At the end of the flu season, rates of total seroprotection were 58.5% for patients who received two high dose vaccines and 33.3% for standard vaccination patients.

With that in mind, here are our top tips for the flu season:

  1. Wash your hands: Take your time scrubbing your hands with soap. Try reciting the alphabet as you scrub. Run your hands under warm water and don’t forget to dry with a clean towel.
  2. Carry hand sanitizer with you and use it often: Germs lurk everywhere - on grocery carts, money, door knobs, movie theater seat handles, your cell phone or computer keyboard. Even shaking hands with others who may be sick may spread a virus. 
  3. Get a flu shot, then get a booster! Speak with your doctor prior to make sure that the flu shot is right for you. If it is, consider getting yours right away. The flu shot will be more effective if you also get a booster shot mid-way through the season.
  4. Keep your hands out of your face, mouth, eyes and nose. 
  5. Avoid sick people: Schools, workplaces, and small confined spaces can be dangerous places for the immune system. Airplanes can also pose serious hazards. If you must go to places where you will be exposed to sick people, consider wearing a mask.
  6. Do not share drinks, food or eating utensils with anyone, ever.
  7. Stay away from buffets and store samples: Costco samples may look really tempting and (some) buffets are fabulous, but avoid these. You have no idea who has coughed or breathed on the food you are about to put in your mouth.
  8. Practice social distancing: Do not shake hands with anyone if you can avoid it. If someone appears sick, stay several feet away.
  9. Eat healthy: Some of the most powerful immune-boosting foods to indulge in during flu season include brown rice, Brazil nuts, oysters, salmon, garlic, chicken noodle soup, sweet potatoes, and fresh fruits and veggies. Speak with your doctor about any dietary restrictions you may have prior to changing your diet.
  10. Get lots of sleep.
  11. Stay properly hydrated: Water and herbal teas are fantastic options during cooler temps.
  12. Get exercise: If it is cold outside, consider indoor activities, which can include cleaning your house, hitting up yoga, or going to a recreation center. When the weather permits, fresh air and Vitamin D are priceless, so get out when you can.
  13. Keep your house clean: Wash surfaces, door handles, remote controls, and even your computer keyboard. Clean homes not only help keep germs at bay but also calm your soul.
  14. If you are sick, call your doctor immediately and report symptoms, especially if you spike a fever.
The author Erika Johnson

about the author
Erika Johnson

Myeloma Crowd Editorial Contributor, Nursing student, and cancer advocate.

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