Flu season can start as early as October and last through May. Despite our warm sunny climate, the Cayman Islands are not immune to the flu virus or its complications. If you have a diagnosed heart condition, it is especially important to be aware that flu infections can create added stress in the body which can affect blood pressure, heart rate, and overall heart function. According, to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), flu-related death is more common among individuals with heart disease than among people with any other chronic medical condition.

There can be some confusion between the common cold and the flu. The Centers for Disease Control defines the flu and the common cold are both respiratory illnesses but caused by different viruses. Because these two types of illnesses have similar flu-like symptoms, it can be difficult to tell the difference between them based on symptoms alone. In general, the flu is worse than the common cold, and symptoms such as high fever, headache, body aches, extreme tiredness, sore throat, nasal congestion, cough, vomiting, diarrhea, and nausea are more common and intense. Colds are usually milder than the flu. Colds generally do not result in serious health problems, such as pneumonia, bacterial infections, or hospitalizations. A few antiviral medications are available to treat flu, but there are no medications that specifically conquer the common cold. Your doctor may opt to prescribe medication like antibiotics for secondary bacterial infections such as bacterial pneumonia, ear and sinus infections.

Health experts emphasize the importance of receiving the flu vaccine if you have a heart condition. The vaccine is engineered to protect against the flu strains thought to cause the most illness each season. The recommended time to get a flu shot is October or November of each year. You can still benefit by getting the influenza vaccine in January or even later as the flu season often lasts until May. Discuss with your general practitioner or cardiologist if the flu vaccine is right for you. In addition to the flu vaccine, there are other easy everyday steps you can take to prevent the flu:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Germs spread this way.
  • Steer clear of close contact with sick people as much as possible.
  • Avoid sharing utensils, plates, glasses, and anything else you touch with your mouth. Wash used dishes and utensils in the dishwasher or in the sink with hot water and soap.
  • Boost your own immune system by eating a healthy diet, regular exercise, and 7-9 hours of sleep a night.

It's important to call your doctor when the first flu symptoms appear as flu might increase the risk of serious problems associated your heart condition. Your doctor may recommend an antiviral drug, which can help decrease flu symptom intensity and how long the flu lasts if taken early in the illness. In addition, before taking any over-the-counter flu treatment, talk to your doctor or ask your pharmacist for advice. Many over-the-counter cold and flu preparations contain decongestants which can raise blood pressure and interfere with heart medications. Make sure that all of your doctors know all of the drugs you're taking both prescription and over-the-counter. Do not hesitate to seek medical care if you have flu symptoms and are diagnosed with a heart condition. Take action now to understand and prevent your risk of complications from the influenza virus.

Resources:

- Web MD Heart Disease and the Flu
- Centers for Disease Control
People at High Risk of Developing Flu–Related Complications
“Take 3” Actions To Fight The Flu
- National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, National Institutes of Health
- American Heart Association