How I guard against the flu as an immunocompromised patient

Common illnesses can prove severe for people with NMO

Jennifer van Amerom avatar

by Jennifer van Amerom |

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I could feel the discomfort in my throat start to build. Despite how often I cleared my throat, I couldn’t make the feeling disappear. Next, I tried a large glass of water, but the sting with every swallow confirmed my worry: I’m sick.

As a neuromyelitis optica (NMO) patient with a compromised immune system, having the flu means facing a battle that will likely last weeks. Not only am I in for a long recovery, but my weak immune system also means the infection will be intense. It’s difficult being more susceptible to germs, and even more frustrating trying to explain that to everyone all the time.

The ‘Green Monster’

Over time, I’ve slowly become a germaphobe, out of necessity and self-preservation. I half-jokingly say phrases like “Cleanliness is next to godliness” and “Cleaning and organizing are a practice, not a project.”

Even my version of regular hand-washing likely qualifies as obsessive-compulsive behavior.

My family and I take many precautions to avoid catching the flu, which is exactly why I’m irritated when I still catch a nasty bug. I’m always surprised by how quickly an infection can take my body hostage. I call the mucus buildup the “Green Monster” because I imagine my chest and sinus cavity filling with slime, like Slimer from “Ghostbusters.”

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My Worrisome Encounter With COVID-19 as an NMO Patient

The flu shot

I haven’t had influenza, the common cold, or any other “typical” ailment since before the pandemic started. Work allows me to operate remotely, so I can go days without seeing other people, the exception being my immediate family members.

In previous years, I’ve always opted for the flu shot, which protects us from that season’s four most common influenza viruses. Like all vaccines, there’s always a minor risk of side effects. This has never scared me enough to opt out of the shot because, for me, its benefits outweigh the challenges of having the flu with NMO.

Unfortunately, I got sick before I had the chance to get this season’s flu shot. While it’s possible to get the flu even after being vaccinated, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) still recommends the vaccine for nearly everyone 6 months and older. Studies have shown that it can reduce the severity of illness in those who still get sick.

If you’re unable to get the flu vaccine, encourage others around you to get it to help reduce the spread.


It’s standard protocol to hydrate on a regular day, but it’s especially important to do so when you’re sick. I’ve written before that our daily fluid intake doesn’t have to come from eight glasses of water. We consume water in various ways, such as through the foods we eat.

When I’m really sick, as is the case with a sore throat, staying hydrated is a tall order. It’s often a good idea for NMO patients to seek medical care when we’re sick, even if it’s just to get an IV of saline. I always know I’m not consuming enough water when I develop a headache.

When to seek medical attention

Although it’s a common ailment, “influenza is one of the deadliest vaccine-preventable diseases in America,” the Families Fighting Flu website notes. The CDC estimates that the U.S. saw 12,000-52,000 annual deaths from influenza between 2010 and 2020. Adding NMO to the mix complicates matters, so I’m likely to seek medical attention sooner rather than later.

If I’m unable to keep fluids or food down or am having difficulty breathing, I’ll always visit the closest emergency room. If I’m sick for more than a week, I’ll book an appointment with my general practitioner. Bottom line, if you’re unsure, always err on the side of caution and seek medical attention.

Note: Neuromyelitis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Neuromyelitis News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder (NMOSD).


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