Why people living with HIV need protection from the flu

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Why people living with HIV need protection from the flu

The flu season can be a worrying time for people with HIV. With their immune system already weakened by the human immunodeficiency virus, they are already at higher risk of developing serious infections than a person with no underlying health conditions (1).

At higher risk of the flu

People with immunodeficiency diseases, including HIV infection, are at high risk of serious complications if they catch the flu (2). They may also be more likely than the general population to catch the flu (3) and, if they do, their symptoms are more likely to last for longer (4), their illness is more likely to be severe (3), and they are more likely to be hospitalised (3).

But there is also good news. For some people infected with HIV, the flu doesn’t affect their HIV infection.

Introduced in the mid-1990s, many people with HIV now receive combination therapies to slow down the progress of their HIV infection (5). Studies have found that patients with HIV receiving these therapies who catch the flu don’t experience any unique signs or symptoms of HIV (3). The studies also found their secondary HIV complications didn’t increase and there was no evidence of their HIV progressing with the flu (3). Even patients who already had serious HIV-related infections – known as opportunistic infections – when they caught the flu had no complications (3).

Protecting yourself from the flu

Vaccination with an injectable flu shot has been shown to protect against the flu for certain people infected with HIV (4). The flu shot may prevent or lessen flu complications, particularly heart and lung problems (7).   

While your immune system’s response to the vaccination may be poor for anyone with advanced HIV infection (4), the flu shot means they are less likely to catch the flu and, if they do, their symptoms are likely to be less serious (7).

People with HIV infection should receive the flu shot rather than the nasal spray (7). The seasonal flu vaccine doesn’t contain any live flu virus (7), so it is safe for use by people living with HIV (8). The nasal spray, however, contains flu virus that is alive but weakened, and anyone with a vulnerable immune system may be at higher risk of complications (7).

If you have a more advanced HIV infection, your healthcare specialist may recommend a booster shot of the flu vaccine to ensure a higher rate of protection (6). They may also recommend antiviral medications to prevent you from getting infected with the flu if you are likely to come in contact with people with the flu (4).

(1) http://www.aidsmap.com/hiv-basics/HIV-AIDS/page/1412437/
(2) http://www.who.int/hiv/mediacentre/influenza_hiv.pdf
(3) https://academic.oup.com/cid/article/32/9/1366/292070
(4) https://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/hiv-flu.htm
(5) https://ecdc.europa.eu/en/factsheet-hiv
(6) http://www.projectinform.org/pdf/flu.pdf
(7) https://www.hiv.va.gov/patient/faqs/should-you-get-flu-shot.asp
(8) http://www.aidsmap.com/Influenza-flu/page/2539023/


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