Who is at the Highest Risk for Flu Complications?


Most people are fortunate enough to recover from the flu in less than two weeks without medication or seeing a physician. However, for those high-risk individuals, having a bout of flu could mean developing complications that could lead to hospitalization or death. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people at a greater risk of developing adverse complications include those who are older than 65, elderly people living in nursing homes, pregnant women, including those who are two weeks postpartum, as well Alaskan natives, American Indians, cancer, asthma, and HIV sufferers, and young children. Here’s what you need to know about people who fall in the high-risk category.

Individuals Older Than 65 Years

It’s advisable to see your health care practitioner if you develop flu symptoms, as your immune system gradually weakens with age. The CDC notes that up to 85 percent of influenza-related fatalities occur within this group. Also, up to 70 percent of flu-induced hospitalizations took place here.

If you are over 65, ensure that you get your flu shot annually in October. If you’ve missed your shot, you can opt to get one later, provided that it’s still flu season. You could opt for any injectable flu shot such as a high dose vaccine which has a significantly higher antigen level than ordinary flu shots. Or opt for an adjuvanted flu vaccination. It’s best to try to avoid people with the flu, and wash your hands as a preventative measure.Try to get a pneumococcal injection as well. This will protect you from meningitis, pneumonia, and other blood infections.

Pregnant Women

This high risk category also includes women who are two weeks postpartum. Having the flu can cause major upheavals in your immune, cardiovascular, and respiratory systems if you are pregnant. Developing influenza-related complications may also result in premature labor and delivery, or birth defects.

Receiving a flu shot is your best bet for protection against flu and its complications. Do not hesitate to see your healthcare practitioner if you experience sudden dizziness, pressure in your stomach or chest, shortness of breath, labored breathing, an elevated fever that does not respond to drugs such as Tylenol, or confusion. If your baby has been moving more often, or you cannot feel any movement, consult your doctor immediately.

Young Children

If your child is younger than 2 years old, he or she falls into the high risk category. Children under 5 years are at a slightly lower risk of developing complications, even though they still fall in the high risk category.

It’s imperative that children are vaccinated every year before October. This is especially crucial for children who pose the greatest risk of developing life threatening complications. These would include children younger than 6 months, those up to 5 years of age, and Alaskan and American Indian children.

Residents of Nursing Homes and Caregivers

If you live in a nursing home or are a healthcare practitioner there, you fall within the high-risk category. It’s imperative that all workers and residents at long-term healthcare facilities receive their influenza vaccination before the onset of the flu season. The Trivalent Inactivated Influenza Vaccine (TIV) should be administered annually.

The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) also recommends that all health care staff are vaccinated yearly. If you work as a healthcare practitioner this would help reduce the transmission of flu, hospitalization and flu-related deaths, and absenteeism. If you live or work in a nursing home, get an influenza test as soon as you develop symptoms. Flu testing may include obtaining respiratory specimens such as nasal swabs, nasal aspirates, or throat swabs.


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