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Staying Healthy During Flu Season: Advice for People Living With HIV/AIDS

By Ronald Valdiserri, M.D., M.P.H.

December 5, 2011

Dr. Ronald Valdiserri.

Dr. Ronald Valdiserri.

Flu season is upon us; so, it's time for everyone in the HIV/AIDS community to prepare.

We all know that that the flu can make anyone sick. But did you know that people with long-term health conditions -- including HIV/AIDS as well as asthma, diabetes (type 1 and 2), and heart disease -- are at greater risk for serious complications from the flu? Studies have shown an increased risk for heart and lung-related hospitalizations in people infected with HIV during influenza season and a higher risk of influenza-related death in HIV-infected people.

People living with HIV/AIDS (PLWH/A) as well as those who work with PLWH/A should follow CDC's recommended three-step approach to fighting the flu: vaccination, everyday preventive actions, and, if you get the flu, use of antiviral drugs if your doctor prescribes them.

1. Get a Flu Vaccination

Flu activity usually peaks in January or February in the United States and can last as late as May. As long as flu season isn't over, it's not too late to get vaccinated. With flu activity increasing and family and friends gathering for the holidays, now is a great time to get a flu vaccine to protect yourself and your loved ones.

Have you gotten your flu vaccine? It's not too late! It's National Influenza Vaccination Week.

2. Everyday Preventive Actions

To reduce your risk of flu infection:

3. If You Develop Flu-Like Symptoms

Symptoms of flu include fever (though not everyone with flu will have a fever), cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, and sometimes diarrhea and vomiting. If you have HIV/AIDS and you develop flu-like symptoms, contact your healthcare provider or seek medical care.Your doctor may recommend treatment with prescription antiviral drugs, which can make the flu milder and shorten the time you are sick. However, antiviral drugs are not a substitute for getting a flu vaccine. While not 100% effective, a flu vaccine is the first and best way to prevent influenza. Antiviral drugs are a second line of defense to treat the flu if you get sick.

Get a Flu Vaccine, Not the Flu

Once vaccinated, you can enjoy this holiday season knowing that you have taken the single best step to protect yourself and your loved ones against the flu. Remember, the "Flu Ends With U." Get a flu vaccine, not the flu.

Learn more about PLWH/A and the flu, National Influenza Vaccine Week and access materials to share with clients, family and friends at the CDC's website and on

Ronald Valdiserri, M.D., M.P.H., is the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health, Infectious Diseases, and Director of the Office of HIV/AIDS Policy, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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