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Flu Season and Pleural Mesothelioma

Though the influenza virus can be detected year-round, the flu peaks during the fall and winter. Most people who contract influenza get over it in a matter of days with no serious complications. However, for someone with a compromised immune system or a serious illness, the flu can be extremely dangerous. This includes many cancer patients, especially those with respiratory problems like those caused by pleural mesothelioma.

Misdiagnosis is another worry during flu season. Flu symptoms are similar to those of pleural mesothelioma. Accurately diagnosing this cancer is important for the best treatment outcomes. However, when the flu is circulating, misdiagnosis is common. Know the signs of mesothelioma and insist on an a detailed diagnosis if you suspect you have it.

What is Influenza?

Influenza is a common viral infection. Depending on the strain and the health of the person affected, influenza can cause mild illness, moderate illness, severe illness, or even death. The influenza virus infects the respiratory system. It is spread through mucous and saliva. When an infected person sneezes or coughs, tiny droplets containing the virus spread and can potentially infect someone else.

The flu is contagious and can be spread by people who don’t even know they are infected. This is why the flu spreads so quickly, especially during peak flu season. People go to work or school, spreading the virus without realizing they are sick. The flu’s contagious period may last from one day before symptoms present to seven days after first experiencing symptoms.

Antiviral drugs can be used to treat the symptoms of the flu, but most people do not need them. These drugs lessen the duration of the infection and reduce symptoms. However, only those with weakened immune symptoms or those vulnerable to complications are good candidates for them.

The flu vaccine is a better option for most people. Researchers create a new prophylactic vaccine for every flu season based on the particular strain of virus likely to be most common that year.

Complications of the Flu

Most healthy people survive flu without serious complications. However, those with compromised immune systems, young children, people over 65, pregnant women, and those with chronic illnesses or cancer, can suffer serious complications. Flu may cause sinus and ear infections. Other more serious complications include inflammation in the heart, muscle, or brain, and organ failure.

Flu can lead to pneumonia, a particular concern for those with chronic respiratory illnesses, including pleural mesothelioma. Pneumonia is a serious infection and can become life-threatening, especially in someone already ill. Pleural mesothelioma compromises the immune system. Fighting off the flu (and potentially pneumonia) can be problematic. Contracting the flu while fighting cancer can lead to serious illness, longer hospital stays, decreased ability to tolerate treatments, and even death.

Common Symptoms and the Danger of Misdiagnosis

While people with pleural mesothelioma are at higher risk for getting the flu, this is not the only risk associated with the virus. Someone with mesothelioma could potentially be misdiagnosed as having the flu. Pleural mesothelioma must be diagnosed and treated early for best results. A misdiagnosis can delay treatment, and any delay is dangerous.

Symptoms of pleural mesothelioma include:

  • Shortness of breath.
  • Dry cough.
  • Difficulty swallowing.
  • Pain when breathing.
  • Chest pains.
  • Coughing with blood.
  • Lumps under the skin on the chest.
  • Fever
  • Fatigue.
  • Weight loss.

The symptoms of the influenza virus include:

  • Fever
  • Dry cough.
  • Sore throat.
  • Body aches.
  • Runny or stuffy nose.
  • Fatigue.
  • Headache.
  • Chills, sweats.

People experience symptoms differently. Not everyone with the flu will get a fever, and not everyone with mesothelioma will feel lumps under the skin. However, there is enough overlap between the symptoms that it is easy to misdiagnose pleural mesothelioma as the flu. The risk of misdiagnosis increases during flu season.

If you have symptoms that seem like the flu but persist or worsen, you may need to see your doctor for a better diagnosis. This is especially true if there is a chance you have been exposed to asbestos.

Staying Safe During Flu Season

If you already have pleural mesothelioma and it’s flu season, you should avoid contracting an infection. Talk to your doctor about receiving the flu vaccine. If you can’t, there are other things you can do to protect yourself from the flu virus. If you cannot receive the flu vaccine, those around you, including family and friends, should. This will decrease your risk of exposure to the flu virus.

Avoid places where there could be infected people during flu season. This includes crowded places like the mall, movie theaters, or airports. Practice good hygiene to avoid infection as well. Wash your hands regularly and keep surfaces in your home or work disinfected. Additionally, practicing good health habits will reduce your risks of getting sick. Be sure to eat a healthy diet, get enough sleep, exercise if possible. and stay hydrated.

Flu season comes around every year, and for some it can be very serious. If you have mesothelioma, talk to your doctor about what you need to do to stay safe this season. If you have symptoms of the flu but are concerned the diagnosis is incorrect, talk to your doctor about your mesothelioma concerns.

Page Edited by Dave Foster

Dave has been a mesothelioma Patient Advocate for over 10 years. He consistently attends all major national and international mesothelioma meetings. In doing so, he is able to stay on top of the latest treatments, clinical trials, and research results. He also personally meets with mesothelioma patients and their families and connects them with the best medical specialists and legal representatives available. Connect with Patient Advocate Dave Foster

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