Flu Season Approaches: What Do People With HIV Need to Know?

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Most of us know by now that the best way to protect ourselves and our families from the flu and reduce the spread of influenza is to get a flu vaccine -- every year -- and that includes people with HIV. But flu seasons can be hard to predict and no one year is exactly like the last. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), here's what you need to know for 2016-2017.

The flu can cause serious complications -- especially for children under the age of 5, adults over the age of 65, women who are pregnant and people with certain chronic medical conditions such as those who have immune system suppression from HIV disease. While most healthy people recover fully from the flu, widespread vaccination is important to protect these vulnerable populations. Flu vaccines are available at doctors' offices, clinics, health departments, pharmacies, and college health centers, as well as through many employers.

In June 2016, the CDC recommended that the nasal flu vaccine should not be used this year because of concerns about its effectiveness. While a limited supply of the nasal flu vaccine may be available in the U.S., the CDC cautions health care providers and the public that only injectable flu shots, which have been updated to match circulating viruses as closely as possible, are recommended for the 2016-2017 flu season.

That nasal flu vaccine -- which contains live virus -- is a convenient option for people with healthy immune systems in years where it's deemed effective for the current version of the flu, but it's not for people with low CD4 counts or other kinds of immune system impairment, or those with whom they have close household contact, because they may be vulnerable to picking up infection from the vaccine.

Standard flu vaccines contain the types of influenza virus -- either three or four strains -- that researchers determine will be most common in the upcoming season. Other options this year include a high-dose vaccine and vaccine that contains an adjuvant to create a stronger immune response for use in adults over the age of 65.

People with a previous history of severe allergic reaction to the flu vaccine, regardless of the component suspected of causing the reaction, should not receive the flu vaccine, but the CDC has changed the recommendations for people with egg allergies for this flu season. According to these new guidelines, people with a history of hives alone after exposure to eggs should receive the flu vaccine. Those who experienced a more serious allergic reaction -- swelling in underlying tissues (angioedema), respiratory distress, repeated vomiting, for example -- or who required epinephrine or other emergency treatment should receive a flu vaccine in an in- or out-patient medical facility.

Flu viruses can, in fact, be detected year-round in the United States, but peak activity usually occurs between December and March. Since flu season can begin as early as October, the CDC recommends that adults and children over the age of 6 months get vaccinated by the end of October, if possible. Some children may need two doses of the flu vaccine.

Diane Domina is a senior content producer at Remedy Health Media, LLC. She writes the Daily Dose for HealthCentral and is the editorial director at HealthCommunities. Her goal is to contribute to a valuable, trustworthy and informative experience for people who are searching for health information online.

Additional reporting was provided by JD Davids, managing editor of TheBody.com.