6 Health Conditions That Increase Your Risk of Flu

Adult male with the flu, blowing his nose, wrapped in a blanket.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), everyone six months of age and older should get a flu vaccine every year, with rare exceptions. But for some groups, it’s especially important. Here are the top six health conditions that increase your chances of getting the flu.

Immunocompromised 

If your immune system is weakened by conditions like HIV, AIDS, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, Crohn’s, sickle cell anemia or you currently have cancer or had certain types of cancer (such as lymphoma or leukemia) in the past, you are at higher risk for complications from the flu. This is also true for organ transplant patients.

Flu vaccines are approved for use in people with cancer and other health conditions, and have a long and established safety record. Randomized studies have also shown the flu vaccine can prevent influenza in HIV-infected adults. However, the nasal spray vaccine should never be used to vaccinate those with HIV or AIDS because the safety and effectiveness of this vaccine in people with those conditions has not been established.

If you have a child with a condition that has left them immunocompromised, read the CDC’s Guide for Parents of Children or Adolescents with Chronic Health Conditions.

Diabetes

Diabetes can weaken the immune system and make it more difficult to fight off infections, making complications such as pneumonia, bronchitis, and sinus and ear infections more likely.

Flu can also make chronic conditions like diabetes worse, by depressing your appetite and making it harder to control your blood sugar.

For those with diabetes, the CDC recommends the injectable vaccine; there is a precaution against the use of nasal spray flu vaccine in people with diabetes because the safety and effectiveness of this vaccine in people with diabetes has not been established.

Age

Our immune systems become weaker as we age, leaving people age 65 or older at higher risk of contracting the flu and requiring hospitalization. However, a high-dose vaccine has been developed, containing a larger dose of the flu antigen, which can create a stronger immune response and help an aging immune system create more antibodies. Talk with your primary care provider about your flu vaccine options. 

Pregnancy or Postpartum

A common misconception among many patients is that seasonal flu vaccines are not appropriate for people that are pregnant or breastfeeding. This is not true.

Changes is the immune system, heart and lungs of people during pregnancy make pregnant people — as well as people up to two weeks postpartum — more prone to severe complications from seasonal flu. Influenza can also pose a serious risk to a developing baby. (One common flu symptom – fever – may be associated with neural tube defects and other adverse outcomes for unborn children.)

2018 study found that getting a flu vaccine reduced pregnant people’s risk of flu-related hospitalization by an average of 40 percent. Because antibodies are passed on to the fetus during pregnancy, pregnant people who get a flu vaccine also help protect their babies during the first months after they are born, when they are too young to be vaccinated themselves. 

Heart Disease and Stroke

According to the CDC, about half of the adults hospitalized with flu during the 2017-18 influenza season had heart disease. Studies have also shown that influenza is associated with increased risk of heart attacks and stroke.

The best way to protect yourself from these complications is by getting an injectable flu vaccination, which research has shown is associated with lower rates of some cardiac events among people with heart disease.

Those with heart disease should also keep up-to-date with pneumococcal vaccination to protect against diseases like pneumonia, meningitis and bloodstream infections. It’s important to speak with your primary care provider or cardiologist to determine which vaccines are recommended for you.

Asthma

Asthma is a lung disease caused by chronic inflammation of the airways; it is also one of the most common, long-term diseases among children. The swollen and sensitive airways of people with asthma  put them at higher risk for more serious flu-related complications — in particular, further inflammation of the airways and lungs.

Even if your asthma is mild or well-controlled by medication, the flu can trigger asthma attacks and worsen your symptoms. Influenza can also lead to pneumonia and other acute respiratory diseases, especially among younger individuals. Among children hospitalized with the flu, asthma is the most common medical condition.

Among elderly people with chronic lung disease, a three-year study of patients who received the influenza vaccination showed hospitalization rates for pneumonia and influenza reduced by 52 percent; deaths from all causes were reduced by 70 percent.

Given the continuing presence of COVID-19 this year, it’s more important than ever for everyone – even those without underlying health conditions – to get the flu shot. For more information about preventing flu and COVID-19, visit our website

For a healthier tomorrow, get vaccinated today.

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