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Are You at High Risk for Flu?

The flu (influenza) is a contagious respiratory (breathing) infection that can affect everyone.

Some people believe the flu is the same as a bad cold, but it is not. The flu is a strong virus that can cause illness, hospitalization and sometimes even death.

At Banner Health, we want to help you lower your risk during flu season. Read on to understand your potential risk for serious flu symptoms, possible complications from the flu and how to protect yourself and your loved ones.

High-risk groups for the flu

Older adults

Adults age 65 and over have weaker immune systems, meaning they can catch the flu easier and have stronger flu symptoms. They are also more likely to have extra complications from the flu.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 70%-85% of seasonal flu deaths and 50%-70% of flu-related hospitalizations are in people 65 and older.

Young children

Children under 5 years old are at higher risk for the flu because their immune systems are still growing. If they get the flu, they might experience complications like ear infections and dehydration.

Babies younger than 6 months are at even higher risk for the flu because they are too young to be vaccinated. However, if their mother got a flu shot during pregnancy, the baby is better protected against the flu during these first few months.

Pregnant and postpartum people

During pregnancy, your immune system changes to help protect the growing baby. These changes can make pregnant people have stronger flu symptoms. The flu virus may also be risky for the unborn child.

Getting a flu shot during pregnancy protects both the pregnant person and their baby during the first few months of life.

People with chronic health conditions

People living with chronic conditions such as asthma, diabetes, heart disease and weakened immune systems are more vulnerable to flu problems. The virus can make their health conditions worse and also lead to serious breathing problems.

Living in long-term care facilities and nursing homes

The flu is very contagious and can be harmful to older adults with weaker immune systems. Living in close quarters (such as in nursing homes) allows the flu virus to spread even faster.

Potential problems that can happen because of the flu

The flu can lead to more serious complications, especially in people at high risk. Some of these complications include:

  • Pneumonia: This is one of the most common and serious infections that can follow being sick with the flu. Pneumonia affects the lungs and can cause severe breathing difficulties.
  • Bronchitis: Inflammation (swelling) of the airways in the lungs can lead to bronchitis, an infection that causes ongoing cough and difficulty breathing.
  • Sinus and ear infections: The flu can lead to extra infections in your sinuses and ears, causing pain, discomfort and other problems.
  • Dehydration: Infants, young children and older adults are at a higher risk of dehydration (not enough fluid in your body) because of fever, vomiting and diarrhea caused by the flu.
  • Worsening of chronic conditions: For people living with ongoing conditions (like asthma, diabetes, heart disease or a weakened immune system), the flu can make their health worse and lead to more problems. Some of these complications include:
    • Asthma attacks
    • Organ failure
    • Worsening heart disease
    • Heart, brain and muscle inflammation

What you can do about the flu if you are at high risk

Get vaccinated

Getting your flu shot is very important to protect yourself and others from the flu virus.

The flu vaccine helps you fight the flu virus, protecting you, your loved ones and your community. It is recommended for everyone over the age of 6 months, especially those in high-risk groups.

Contact your health care provider

If you are in a high-risk group (see above), it is very important to contact your health care provider as soon as you think you may have the flu.

Your provider may prescribe antiviral medicine that can help you with the flu. Taking this medicine can help you have a milder case of the flu and avoid serious problems.

Stay well hydrated

It is important to drink plenty of water every day. This is especially true if you think you have the flu. Drink extra fluids (like clear liquids and broth) to prevent dehydration.

Keep track of your symptoms

Contact your health care provider immediately if your flu symptoms don’t get better, start to get worse or if it’s hard to take care of yourself at home.

If you or a loved one think you’re having a flu emergency, such as difficulty breathing or unresponsiveness  , call 911 or go to your closest hospital’s emergency department immediately.

Learn about when to seek medical care for the flu.

Other ways you can help slow the spread of the flu

In addition to getting your flu shot every year, you can take easy steps to slow down the spread of the flu this season.

  • Wash your hands often with warm water and soap
  • Avoid close contact with other people who are sick
  • Stay home when you are sick
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your elbow when you cough or sneeze
  • Stay active, eat a nutritious diet and get plenty of rest

Learn more ways you can help slow the spread of the flu.

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