For some people, though, the risk of having severe complications is higher than it is for the rest of the population, the CDC reminded everyone last week. If you are in one of these groups, often visit or live with someone in one of these groups, it’s even more important to get vaccinated against seasonal influenza.
When scheduling your seasonal influenza vaccine, it’s also a good time to ask about getting boosted with the COVID-19 bivalent vaccine that’s expected to be available next month. That vaccine will help prevent the latest Omicron BA.4 and BA.5 strains of COVID-19. With one visit, you can be doubly protected.
- Age 65 and older: As we age, changes in our immune defenses make us more susceptible to more-severe complications of influenza. In recent years, for example, it’s estimated that between 70% and 85% of seasonal influenza-related deaths have occurred in people 65 years and older, and between 50% and 70% of seasonal flu-related hospitalizations have occurred among people in this age group.
- Young children: Children younger than 5 years old – especially those younger than 2 – are at higher risk of developing serious complications. Getting vaccinated against influenza has been shown to reduce flu illnesses, visits to health care providers, and missed school days, and to reduce the risk of hospitalization and death in children.
- Asthma: Influenza can trigger asthma attacks and worsen asthma symptoms. It also can lead to pneumonia and other acute respiratory diseases.
- Heart disease: About half of adults hospitalized with influenza have heart disease. Studies have shown that influenza is associated with an increase in heart attacks and stroke.
- Chronic kidney disease: People with chronic kidney disease are at high risk of developing serious complications from influenza because it weakens the immune response.
- Diabetes: People with diabetes, even when well-managed, are at higher risk of developing flu-related complications such as pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus infections, and ear infections. Influenza also may affect blood sugar levels.
- Pregnancy: Changes in the immune system, heart, and lungs during pregnancy may make pregnant people (and people up to two weeks postpartum) more prone to severe illness from influenza. Influenza also may be harmful for a developing baby.
Racial and ethnic minorities
- People from racial and ethnic minority groups experience higher rates of severe influenza, with disparities in hospital and intensive care admission and death rates among those hospitalized. These disparities were even larger among children.
During the current influenza season, which began Oct. 1, 2021, there have been more than 18,000 influenza cases reported in Arizona. To reduce your risk of severe complications during the coming season, I encourage you to get vaccinated, wash your hands frequently and avoid close contact with anyone who is sick. To help reduce the spread, cover a cough or sneeze with a tissue or your sleeve and stay home if you feel sick.
It isn’t too early to get your influenza vaccine. Many retail pharmacies and health care providers already have it available. Learn more and find locations at azhealth.gov/flu.