Are You at High Risk for Serious Illness from Flu?
The Flu Can Be Serious
Influenza, commonly called the "flu," is a contagious viral infection that affects the respiratory system — your nose, throat and lungs. Symptoms of the flu can include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some people may also have vomiting and diarrhea.
The flu can be a serious disease that can lead to hospitalization and sometimes even death. CDC estimates that from the 1976-1977 flu season to the 2006-2007 season, flu-associated deaths ranged from a low of about 3,000 people to a high of about 49,000 people.
It's Not Too Late to Vaccinate!
The latest report and map show early signs of increased flu activity in the United States. Since it takes about two weeks for the body to develop an immune response, now is the ideal time to get a vaccine and be protected before flu activity begins or increases in your community.
While doctor's offices and health departments continue to provide vaccinations, vaccine is also available at many pharmacies, work places, supermarkets and other retail and clinic locations in your area. The Flu Vaccine Locator is a useful tool for finding vaccine in your area.
Who Is More Likely to Get Seriously Ill from Flu?
While the flu can make anyone sick, some people are at greater risk for serious flu-related complications like pneumonia. These groups include:
- Children younger than 5 years, but especially children younger than 2 years old
- Adults 65 years of age and older
- Pregnant women
And people who have certain 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) or cystic fibrosis
- Heart disease, such as congenital heart disease, congestive heart failure, or 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 people with cancer who are receiving chemotherapy or radiation treatment; or those on long-term corticosteroid medications)
- People younger than 19 years of age who are receiving long-term aspirin therapy
- People who are morbidly obese (Body Mass Index, or BMI, of 40 or greater)
Your best defense against influenza—and its possible complications—is to receive an annual vaccination. CDC recommends that everyone 6 months and older get an annual flu vaccination. The flu vaccine is safe and can't cause the flu. The flu shot—not the nasal spray—is recommended for people with chronic medical conditions.
Flu-Related Complications Can Be Severe
Millions of Americans are impacted by long-term health conditions, but many people aren't aware that they have one of these conditions. For example, diabetes affects about 25.8 million Americans, but it is estimated that 1 in 4 people with the disease don't know they have it. It's important to ask your doctor whether you have a health condition that makes you more vulnerable to complications from the flu.
Consider these statistics:
- According to a three-year study conducted from 2005 through 2008, more than a third of adults hospitalized with laboratory-confirmed influenza had cardiac disease.
- 9 out of 10 flu-related deaths in the United States occur in people 65 and older.
- In pregnant women, changes in the immune system, heart and lungs make them more likely to develop a serious illness if they get the flu. A pregnant woman with the flu also has an increased chance for miscarriage or preterm birth.
If you are currently living with a chronic health condition like heart disease, diabetes or asthma, certain behaviors are probably part of your daily routine, like watching your diet or blood sugar levels, taking your prescribed medications or keeping your inhaler on hand. Make getting an annual flu vaccine another part of your health management routine—it's your best defense against the flu and related complications.
Since the flu is contagious, it's also important that all of your close contacts are vaccinated. In addition, people with medical conditions like asthma, diabetes and heart disease also should get the pneumococcal vaccine. Ask your doctor about these vaccines.
Sick with Flu? Early Antiviral Treatment Is Important
If you have a condition that increases your chance of developing serious complications and you get the flu, early treatment with flu antiviral medication is important. Antiviral drugs are prescription medications that can be used to treat the flu. Quick treatment with antiviral drugs in someone with a high-risk condition can mean the difference between being sick at home and possibly ending up in the hospital. Studies show that these drugs work best when they are started within 2 days of getting sick. However, starting them later can still be helpful, especially if the sick person has a high-risk health condition or is very sick from the flu.
Antiviral medications are not a substitute for vaccination. Annual flu vaccination is the first and best way to prevent the flu, but if you do get sick with the flu, antiviral medications are a second line of defense. CDC recommends using flu antiviral drugs for treatment regardless of a person’s vaccination status, because it’s possible that some people who were vaccinated could still get the flu. If you have a high-risk medical condition and develop flu-like symptoms, check with your doctor quickly.
Get email updates
To receive email updates about this page, enter your email address:
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
1600 Clifton Rd
Atlanta, GA 30333
TTY: (888) 232-6348
- Contact CDC-INFO