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Influenza Immunization is Important for All Asthmatics, But Many Ignore Warnings

The American Lung Association has called for improved influenza immunization among people with asthma after citing extremely low vaccination rates. People with asthma are one of the largest group of chronically ill Americans that are strongly recommended to receive the influenza vaccine each year. Even though groups like the American Lung Association have recommended immunization for quite some time, only 40 percent of adults and 10 percent of children are actually immunized. This leaves the vast majority of people with asthma at a higher risk for serious complications and illness from influenza infection.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is another group that has long recommended annual influenza immunization for persons with asthma, as well as for all other Americans who have underlying medical conditions, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), diabetes and heart disease.

The American Lung Association, also a strong supporter of influenza immunization for people with asthma, underwent a large study of the organization’s Asthma Clinic Research Centers, comprised of a network of 20 facilities around the country that study asthma. The study, which included a very large and varied group of adults and children with all types of asthma - from the most severe to more mild cases - showed clearly that the inactivated flu shot is safe for people with asthma.1

Based on another analysis, the American Lung Association also estimated that vaccinating every child with asthma against the flu could prevent nearly 100,000 hospitalizations in a year.

“More than six million infants and children suffer from asthma and are recommended to receive an influenza vaccine each year, however, nearly 90 percent do not receive an annual immunization,”2 said John Kirkwood, president and CEO for the American Lung Association.

“Of the 13.6 million adults with asthma, only 29 percent of those age 18-49 years receive an influenza vaccine, and only 48 percent of adults with asthma who are age 50-64 are immunized,” Kirkwood added.

In order to help improve influenza immunization rates among asthma sufferers, the American Lung Association has launched an awareness initiative, supported by sanofi pasteur, that includes national media efforts to reach consumers, and development of educational materials for health care providers to educate people with asthma and other high-risk groups about influenza immunization.

Influenza infection can exacerbate asthma attacks and make those with COPD and other respiratory problems ill, constricting airways and lead to persistent decline in lung function.

The study conducted by the American Lung Association among people with varying severities of asthma showed that influenza vaccine does not cause asthma exacerbations and is safe for people with asthma.3 Annual influenza vaccination helps protect people with asthma and other underlying medical conditions (i.e., COPD, heart disease and diabetes) from complications that are associated with influenza and can arise due to influenza infection.

“Avoiding influenza vaccination can be detrimental for people with asthma and other underlying medical conditions such as COPD, as it could help avoid unnecessary emergency room visits, hospitalization, and potentially even death,” said Norman H. Edelman, MD, executive vice president and chief medical officer for the American Lung Association. “It is imperative that everyone with asthma, COPD and other high-risk medical conditions receive an influenza shot before the influenza season hits to protect themselves from potentially serious complications.”

Immunization provides the best protection against influenza. If you are planning to get a flu shot, the best time to get vaccinated is in October and November as flu season usually begins in December and it takes about two weeks after immunization to develop protective antibodies. The season usually peaks in January or February, and continues through March, so vaccination in December, January or beyond is still recommended for those who were not vaccinated earlier.

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1 Castro M, Dozor A, Fish J, Irvin C, Scharf S, Scheipeter ME, Holbrook J, Tonascia J, Wise R. The safety of inactivated influenza vaccine in adults and children with asthma. New England Journal of Medicine, 345(21), 1529-1536, Nov. 22, 2001.
2 Kramarz P, DeStefano F, Gargiullo PM, et al. Influenza vaccination in children with asthma in health maintenance organizations. Vaccine Safety Datalink Team. Vaccine 2000; 18:2288-94.
3 Castro M, Dozor A, Fish J, Irvin C, Scharf S, Scheipeter ME, Holbrook J, Tonascia J, Wise R. The safety of inactivated influenza vaccine in adults and children with asthma. New England Journal of Medicine, 345(21), 1529-1536, Nov. 22, 2001.

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