By Lisa C. Richardson, MD, MPH, Director of the CDC Division of Cancer Prevention and Control

As an oncology nurse, you know the prevention of any infection is critical to patients. This couldn’t be truer than with flu. Although not all illnesses are preventable, the flu vaccine is the first and best way that patients with cancer can protect themselves from flu. Oncology nurses should keep the following new information for the 2017–2018 flu season in mind.

  • Do not use the nasal spray flu vaccine, which contains live virus. Only injectable flu shots are recommended for use again this season.
  • The influenza A(H1N1) component was updated in flu vaccines to better match circulating viruses.
  • Two new flu vaccines have been licensed: one inactivated influenza vaccine (“afluria quadrivalent” IIV) and one recombinant influenza vaccine (“flublok qudrivalent” RIV).
  • The age recommendation for “flulaval quadrivalent” has been changed from 3 years old and older to 6 months and older to be consistent with U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved labeling.
  • The trivalent formulation of afluria is recommended for people 5 years and older (formerly 9 years and older) to match the FDA package insert.

Also notable is a new study in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases, which showed that the flu vaccination reduced severe outcomes in patients hospitalized with flu. This study is an important step in better understanding whether flu vaccines can reduce severe flu outcomes even if they fail to protect against infection. Because patients with cancer are at a higher risk for getting complications from flu, this is yet another reason why our patients with cancer need to get the flu vaccine.

Patient Education

Inform your patients about everyday actions they can take to protect themselves from getting flu:

  • Wash their hands often.
  • Avoid close contact with sick people.
  • Avoid touching their eyes, nose, or mouth.

And stress to patients that quick action is vital:

  • Have them call your office immediately if they develop any flu symptoms, such as fever of 100.4 degrees or higher, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, headache, body aches, chills, and fatigue. Diarrhea and vomiting may also be symptoms.
  • Flu antiviral drugs work best if given within 48 hours of symptoms starting.

Nurses should also take steps to stay healthy during this flu season, including making sure they’re vaccinated so they can’t transmit flu to patients.