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Flu Season and Pleural Mesothelioma

Flu season is no fun for anyone who gets sick. Most people who contract influenza overcome it in a few days without any serious repercussions. But flu can seriously sicken or kill people with a compromised immune system or who are in poor health. This includes many cancer patients, especially those with respiratory problems, like those caused by pleural mesothelioma.

Misdiagnosis is another worry during flu season; the symptoms of flu are very similar to those of pleural mesothelioma. Diagnosing this cancer accurately and early is important for the best treatment outcomes, but when the flu is going around it is common to be misdiagnosed. Know the signs of mesothelioma, and insist on an accurate and detailed diagnosis if you think you may have it.

What is Influenza?

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

Flu is contagious often before a person realizes they are sick, which makes flu season so troublesome. People go to work or school and spread the virus, not realizing they are sick. This contagious period may last from one day before symptoms start to five to seven days after first experiencing symptoms.

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

Complications of the Flu

Most healthy people can 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 some serious complications if they contract the flu virus. Flu may cause sinus and ear infections. Other complications include inflammation in the heart, muscle, or brain, or organ failure.

Flu can lead to pneumonia, a particular concern for anyone with a chronic lung or respiratory illness, including pleural mesothelioma. Pneumonia is such a serious infection that it can become life-threatening, especially in someone who is already ill. With pleural mesothelioma, the immune system is compromised, and fighting off the flu, and potentially pneumonia, can be very challenging or impossible. Contracting the flu while fighting cancer can lead to serious illness, longer hospital stays, a 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, and for suffering more severe complications, this is not the only risk associated with the virus. Someone with mesothelioma could be misdiagnosed as having the flu. Pleural mesothelioma must be diagnosed early and treated early for best results. A misdiagnosis can delay treatment, and any delay is dangerous. The symptoms of pleural mesothelioma include:

  • Shortness of breath.
  • A 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
  • A dry cough.
  • A sore throat.
  • Body aches.
  • A runny or stuffy nose.
  • Fatigue.
  • Headache.
  • Chills, sweats.

Different people may experience different symptoms. 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, especially during flu season.

If you have symptoms that seem like the flu, but they persist or get worse, you may need to see your doctor again for a better diagnosis. This is especially true if you think there is any chance you have been exposed to asbestos in your career or at home.

Staying Safe During Flu Season

If you already have pleural mesothelioma and it’s flu season, stay safe and avoid contracting an infection. Talk to your doctor about whether you can tolerate flu vaccine. If you can’t, there are other things you can do to protect yourself from the virus. If you cannot be vaccinated, and even if you can, everyone who spends time around you should be vaccinated. This will decrease the risk that you will be exposed to the virus.

Avoid places where there could be infected people during flu season, crowded places like the mall, a movie theater, or the airport and airplanes. 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 also reduce your risks of getting sick: eat a healthy diet, get enough sleep, get some exercise if possible, and stay hydrated with plenty of fluids.

Flu season comes around every year, and while for some people it can be a pain, for others 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 you are concerned that the diagnosis is not right, speak up and 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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