Q&A: Alphas, seasonal flu and winter wellness

Cold weather conditions can worsen symptoms for lung affected Alphas and for patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), as low temperatures can often lead to fatigue and windy days can cause shortness of breath. Also, the dry winter air can have an effect on breathing.

Seasonal influenza activity in the United States has been elevated for eight weeks and continues to increase, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), while 170.7 million doses of the flu vaccine have been distributed throughout the country.

Robert Sandhaus, MD, PhD, clinical director of the Alpha-1 Foundation, answers questions from the Alpha-1 community regarding flu season and how to stay on top of your health during the cold winter months:

Q. I’ve never received a flu shot and I’ve never gotten the flu. Why do I need a flu shot?

A: The flu can be a devastating illness, especially in patients with underlying Alpha-1 lung disease. Getting the flu shot can be highly effective at preventing the flu and/or making an episode of influenza less severe. As an Alpha, you need to do everything you can to prevent getting the flu and minimize the risks that flu can cause.

Q. Last year, I got the flu shot and I still got the flu. Why bother?

A: Unfortunately, the flu shot is not 100% effective at preventing the flu, but in general it will make your case of the flu less severe if you contract it this season. This year’s flu vaccination appears to be highly effective.

Q. I got my flu shot in early September. Should I get another one to protect myself through spring?

A: A lot of the effectiveness of the shot depends on the severity of this season’s flu. It is best to check with your physician and receive an additional flu shot, if necessary. But, it is not typically necessary.

Q. I’m 65 years old and have been told I should have a high dose flu shot.

A: Anyone above age 65 needs a higher dose of the flu shot in order to get the same response. The flu shot for those 65 or older is a double dose, given as one shot.

Q. What’s the big deal about washing hands?

A: Washing your hands is the MOST effective thing you can do to prevent transmission of colds and flu to others and to prevent transmission to yourself.

Q. Any suggestions for exercising when it’s cold outside?

A: It is always better to exercise inside when the temperature drops. The cold weather is not good for people that have asthmatic tendencies and can cause spasms in the airways. Try to do your normal exercise activities in room temperature, such as using a treadmill or simply walking around a shopping mall.