Are You at High Risk for Serious Illness from Flu?
Annual flu vaccination is the most important defense against influenza and its potentially serious complications.
Are You at High Risk for Serious Flu Illness?
Millions of Americans suffer from flu illnesses every year. CDC early estimates indicate that more than 900,000 people were hospitalized and more than 80,000 people died from flu last season. Some people are at higher risk for serious flu complications, including young children, older people, pregnant women and people with certain chronic health conditions. Flu vaccination and the proper use of influenza antiviral medicines are especially important for protecting people at high risk of serious flu complications.
Influenza, commonly called “flu,” is a contagious viral infection that affects the respiratory system – your nose, throat and lungs. Flu symptoms can range from mild to severe and include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some people also may have vomiting and diarrhea, but this is more common in children than adults.
Anyone can get flu, but certain people are more likely to develop serious flu illness that can result in hospitalization or even death. Those people include:
- Children younger than 5 years, but especially younger than 2 years old
- Adults 65 years of age and older
- Pregnant women (and women up to two weeks postpartum)
- Residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
- American Indians and Alaskan Natives[729 KB]
- People who have certain chronic medical conditions, including:
- Neurological and neurodevelopmental conditions (including disorders of the brain, spinal cord, peripheral nerve, and muscle such as cerebral palsy, epilepsy [seizure disorders], stroke, intellectual disability [mental retardation], moderate to severe developmental delay, muscular dystrophy, or spinal cord injury)
- Chronic lung disease (such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease [COPD] and cystic fibrosis)
- Heart disease (such as congenital heart disease, congestive heart failure and coronary artery disease)
- Blood disorders (such as sickle cell disease)
- Endocrine disorders (such as diabetes mellitus)
- Kidney disorders
- Liver disorders
- Metabolic disorders (such as inherited metabolic disorders and mitochondrial disorders)
- Weakened immune system due to disease or medication (such as people with HIV or AIDS, or cancer, or those on chronic steroids)
- People younger than 19 years of age who are taking aspirin or salicylate-containing medications
- People with extreme obesity (body mass index [BMI} of 40 or greater)
Yearly flu vaccination is the most important defense against influenza and its potentially serious complications. There are many benefits to vaccination, including reducing your risk of flu illness, doctor’s visits, hospitalization and even death in children. Hundreds of millions of Americans safely received flu vaccines during the last 50 years, and extensive research supports the safety of flu vaccines. Everyone 6 months of age and older, including pregnant women and people with certain health conditions, should get a flu vaccine every season, with rare exception.
It’s also important to take everyday preventive steps to stop the spread of flu. These include avoiding close contact with people who are sick, covering your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing and hand washing with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub
If you get sick with flu, antiviral drugs are a treatment option and are recommended for people who are at high risk of serious complications.
It’s Time to Get Vaccinated!
The best time to get your flu vaccine is before flu activity begins to increase. CDC recommends getting your flu vaccine by the end of October. When you are vaccinated, your body starts making antibodies that help protect you from three or four specific flu viruses; these are the virus research suggests will be most common during the upcoming season. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for the immune system to fully respond, and for these antibodies to provide protection.
You need to get a flu vaccine every year because the body’s immune response from the vaccination fades over time. Also, flu vaccines are made each year to keep up with the changing flu viruses. For the 2018-2019 flu season there are many vaccine options, including high dose and vaccines with adjuvant for people 65 and older.
There is a lot of data to support the benefits of flu vaccine. Flu vaccines prevent millions of flu illnesses each season, but they also have been shown to reduce the risk of more serious flu outcomes. For example, a 2014 study showed that flu vaccine reduced children’s risk of flu-related pediatric intensive care unit (PICU) admission by 74 percent during flu seasons from 2010-2012. A 2017 study in the journal ‘Pediatrics’ shows that flu vaccination significantly reduces a child’s risk of dying from influenza. A 2018 study showed that from 2012 to 2015, flu vaccination among adults reduced the risk of being admitted to an intensive care unit (ICU) with flu by 82 percent. Flu vaccination also has been associated with lower rates of some cardiac events and strokes. Some people who get vaccinated do still get sick, but flu vaccination has been shown in several studies to reduce severity of illness in those people.
Another reason to get vaccinated is to help protect others in your community, including those at high risk for serious flu complications. Get vaccinated, and encourage your family and friends to do so as well!