Know the risk factors for flu complications

Cleveland Clinic expert breaks down who is most at risk

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the flu virus is now widespread in 30 states and has impacted between 6-7 million people this season.

The flu can be an absolutely miserable time as the classic symptoms of fever, aches and chills can knock a person down for days.

But according to Dr. Susan Rehm, an infectious disease expert at Cleveland Clinic, there are certain risk factors, such as a person’s age, that can make it more likely to develop complications from the flu.

“For children ages 5 and under, the complication rate and the hospitalization rate is higher,” she said. “In fact, last year, 180 died of influenza, and 80 percent of those children had not been vaccinated.” 

According to a recent report, less than 25 percent of U.S. adults are aware that having certain chronic health conditions can make a person more likely to develop complications from the flu.

Conditions such as asthma, heart disease, diabetes, kidney or liver disorders and obesity are among some of the most prevalent chronic conditions that can impact a person’s risk for flu complications.

Rehm said pregnant women are also at a high risk for complications from the flu, which is why the CDC recommends pregnant women receive a flu vaccination.

She said research shows that having the flu can even increase a person’s risk for heart attack.

One of the most common and dreaded complications from the flu is pneumonia, which is especially dangerous for the very young and the elderly.

“A secondary bacterial infection, pneumonia, is a feared complication of influenza,” said Rehm. “In these cases, people often begin to feel better after their initial illness, and then they develop a fever, shortness of breath, a cough -- different symptoms -- and that is a sign to seek medical attention right away.” 

Rehm said the most important thing that we can do to protect ourselves against the flu is to get an annual flu shot. She said even if you have an allergy to egg, you may still be able to get vaccinated, so it’s important to talk to your doctor.