These 5 Groups of People Have a Higher Risk of Getting Really Sick from the Flu

Anyone can catch the flu and its high fever, terrible fatigue, and muscles aches.

Certain groups of people, however, have a higher risk of getting really sick from the flu. Chronic health problems and weakened immune systems make people more vulnerable to complications from the flu. Serious head and chest illnesses like bronchitis and pneumonia are very dangerous and can lead to emergency room visits, hospitalizations, and in some cases, death.

If you’re at a greater risk of getting very ill from the flu or you’re around someone who is, you may want to take extra precautions in addition to getting a flu vaccine.

People with the Greatest Risk from Flu Complications

  1. Children – those under age two are at greatest risk; all children under age five are at increased risk
  2. Adults age 65 and older
  3. Pregnant women
  4. People with any chronic illness but especially heart, lung, or kidney disease (including asthma)
  5. People with weak immune systems from disease or medication (for example those with HIV/AIDS or having chemotherapy for cancer)

What to Do If You Have an Increased Risk

Make sure you’re taking care of yourself: eat healthy, exercise regularly, sleep eight hours a night, practice good hygiene to prevent the spread of germs. (For more tips, read our blog article on 5 natural ways that can help you try to avoid the flu)

If you do get sick with the flu, stay home to avoid spreading it. There may be people around you who have a chronic illness, have suppressed immune systems, or are pregnant. Healthy people around you also don’t want the flu.

If you’re at higher risk or you spend a lot of time with someone who is, make sure you take these steps:

  1. Get the flu vaccine. It’s important to protect yourself and those around you — especially if you spend time with children, elderly people, or people with chronic illnesses. Nearly everyone over six months of age, including pregnant women, can get a flu vaccine. For the few exceptions, read this guide from the CDC.
  2. Seek help at the first sign of flu. Flu comes on suddenly, but if you take action within the first 48 hours you might be eligible for the antiviral medication that shortens the time and intensity of the flu.
  3. Contact your doctor if you are concerned or getting worse. Worsening symptoms could mean you have a bacterial infection along with the flu virus. If fever and other symptoms don’t get better after three or four days, call your doctor.
  4. Know the emergency warning signs. Any one of the following signs merits emergency care – a trip right away to urgent care or the hospital emergency room:
  • Children:
    • Fast breathing or trouble breathing
    • Bluish or gray skin color
    • Not drinking enough fluids
    • Not waking up or interacting
    • So irritable he/she does not want to be held
    • Flu-like symptoms improved but then return with fever and worse cough
    • Fever that does not respond to medication or is accompanied by a rash
  • Adults:
    • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
    • Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
    • Sudden dizziness
    • Confusion
    • Severe or persistent vomiting
    • Flu-like symptoms improved but then return with fever and worse cough

Differences Between Cold and Flu Symptoms

Sometimes it’s hard to know what’s causing your stuffy nose or excessive coughing. Generally, if it comes on hard and fast, it’s likely the flu and you might feel lousy for up to two weeks. Colds take a while to build, but the worst is usually over in three to four days.

Use this chart to help you tell the differences between cold and flu symptoms:

For more information about the flu, read this FAQ.

Meet the Author

Mark H. Hermanoff, MD is board-certified in Allergy & Clinical Immunology and Internal Medicine at Aurora Health Care in Wauwatosa, Glendale, Summit and Washington County, Wisconsin.

Read more posts from this author

The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

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