Individuals with neuromuscular disease, are considered to be at high risk for complications from the flu, also known as seasonal flu or respiratory flu. Even when flu vaccine was in short supply during 2009, those with neuromuscular disease were on the short-list for vaccination.
True influenza primarily affects the respiratory system. While gastrointestinal illness with vomiting and diarrhea is often referred to as “stomach flu,” this type of illness is not the same as influenza. The flu vaccine does not provide protection against this type of gastrointestinal illness.
While the flu vaccine will not protect against all cases of influenza, it does provide significant protection. Each year the flu vaccine is designed to provide immunization against the three main strains of flu researchers predict will be prevalent that year. Even if an individual contracts a different form of the flu, the flu vaccine is likely to provide some protection.
During the 2012-2013 influenza season, the vaccine available in the U.S. will again provide immunization for the H1N1 virus, as it did last year. The two other virus strains, H3N2 and influenza B, differ from the those in the 2011-2012 vaccine. At this time, the CDC does not expect that quadrivalent vaccine (vaccination against four strains of influenza) will be available in the U.S., but may become available at some time in future years.
In 2009, influenza hit especially hard. As cases of H1N1 influenza reached pandemic proportions, supplies of flu vaccine ran short. Children with neuromuscular disease were among those hit especially hard by the H1N1 outbreak in 2009.
In 2010, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) changed their recommendations for who should receive the flu vaccine. The CDC now recommends that everyone over the age of six months receive the flu vaccine.
However, according to the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA), while people with neuromuscular disease are at increased risk for serious complication from influenza, they should check with their physician before having any type of vaccination, including for influenza. This is especially the case for those diagnosed with polymyositis, dermatomyositis or myasthenia gravis. Further, anyone who is taking immune-suppressing medications should check with their physician before having a vaccination.
For those with neuromuscular disease, experts at the MDA recommend that the flu vaccine be administered in the form of injection rather than nasal administration. Family members of those with neuromuscular disease should also be vaccinated against influenza.
The MDA’s flu shot program makes influenza vaccination available for those with a covered neuromuscular disease who have registered with the MDA if their medical insurance does not cover flu vaccine. See the MDA website for more information about the MDA's Flu Season Resource Center.
The CDC considers the flu vaccine to be one of the most important preventative measures against the flu. The CDC also recommends preventative measures such as frequent hand washing, covering a cough, limiting contact with others if you are ill sick and with others who are sick, and avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
According to the CDC, if you do contract influenza, a visit early to your physician may result in an antiviral medication being prescribed by your physician. These antiviral medications can help shorten the duration of illness and decrease severity.
A few years ago, I waited until the late fall and then had difficulty finding the flu vaccine. This year I plan to receive the flu vaccine as early as possible. Make sure to talk to your physician about influenza and ask if you should receive vaccination against the flu.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2011). CDC Says “Take 3” actions to Fight the flu. H . http://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/preventing.htm . Retrieved September 11, 2012.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2011). People at High Risk of Developing Flu–Related Complications. http://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/disease/high_risk.htm . Retrieved September 11, 2012.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2012). 2012-2013 Flu Season. http://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/season/upcoming.htm. Retrieved September 11, 2012.
Muscular Dystrophy Association (n.d.). A Message from MDA's Interim President and Medical Director Regarding Flu Season. http://www.mda.org/flu-season-support/message . Retrieved September 11, 2012.
Muscular Dystrophy Association (n.d.). MDA's Flu Season Resource Center. http://www.mda.org/flu-season-support . Retrieved September 11, 2012.
Sternberg, S., (2010). H1N1 flu has hit kids with neuromuscular disorders especially hard. USA Today. http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2010-02-18-flukids18_CV_N.htm . Retrieved September 11, 2012.
Zauoutis, et al., (2005). Neurological and neuromuscular disease as risk factor for respiratory failure in children hospitalized with influenza infection. JAMA, 294:17, 2188-94. Link to abstract: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16264160 . Retrieved September 11, 2012.