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The Flu Can Be Serious

Are You at High Risk for Serious Illness from Flu?

Journal Staff Report | 12/28/2015, 2:39 p.m.
Influenza, commonly called the "flu," is a contagious viral infection that affects the respiratory system—your nose, throat and lungs. Symptoms ...

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.

Sick with Flu? Early Antiviral Treatment is Important

If you have a high risk condition (see below) and you get the flu, early treatment with flu antiviral medications is important. Antiviral drugs are prescription medicines that can be used to treat the flu. Rapid treatment with antiviral drugs in someone with a high risk condition can mean the difference between experiencing mild symptoms at home instead of suffering a very severe illness that could result in a hospital stay. 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 medicines 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 medicines are a second line of defense to treat the flu. Antiviral medicines can be prescribed by a doctor to help make flu illness milder and shorten the time you are sick. Data also show that antiviral drugs may prevent serious flu complications. If you have a high risk medical condition and develop flu symptoms, check with your doctor promptly.

High Risk

While the flu can make anyone sick, certain people are at higher risk of serious flu-related complications, like pneumonia and bronchitis, which can lead to hospitalization or even death. The groups considered to be at high risk include:

• Children younger than 5, but especially children 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]

• And people who have certain chronic medical conditions including :

o Asthma

o 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].

o Chronic lung disease (such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease [COPD] and cystic fibrosis)

o Heart disease (such as congenital heart disease, congestive heart failure and coronary artery disease)

o Blood disorders (such as sickle cell disease)

o Endocrine disorders (such as diabetes mellitus)

o Kidney disorders

o Liver disorders

o Metabolic disorders (such as inherited metabolic disorders and mitochondrial disorders)

o Weakened immune system due to disease or medication (such as people with HIV or AIDS, or cancer, or those on chronic steroids)

o People younger than 19 years of age who are receiving aspirin therapy

o People with a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or greater.