Cancer patients and the flu: What you should know

When it comes to contagious diseases like the flu, cancer patients are among those most vulnerable to infection. This year’s flu season is shaping up to be one of the worst in more than a decade, with the Centers for Disease Control reporting “widespread” infection in 49 of the 50 United States. It’s important for cancer patients to protect themselves. So, we talked with Roy Chemaly, M.D., to find out what cancer patients should know. What should cancer patients do if they think they have the flu? What symptoms should they watch out for, and when should they see a doctor? The biggest concern is that cancer patients are at a higher risk of developing serious complications if they do get the flu. So if you have cancer and start experiencing symptoms like a fever, runny nose, sore throat or coughing — especially if you have a compromised immune system — see a doctor right away. There’s a good treatment for the flu, but it has to be administered early, within 48 to 72 hours of the onset of symptoms. If you suspect you might have the flu, you should also be checked for other viruses. Is it safe for cancer patients to take Tamiflu? Yes. Anyone who tests positive for the flu can take it. Oseltamivir (sold under the brand name Tamiflu) is a very good drug, and it should work on the flu strain that’s circulating the most this year. What should cancer patients know about the flu vaccine? It’s safe for patients diagnosed with any type of cancer to get the flu vaccine. But what we’ve...