The flu can make these conditions even worse
The flu is a nasty health problem – an estimated 400,000 people were hospitalized in the U.S. alone for it in the 2019-2020 season, with 22,000 deaths.
But those with certain chronic health conditions can be hit even harder. In addition to ensuring widespread vaccination, knowing what those issues are and why they are so sensitive to getting the flu can help save lives, says Dr. Andres Giraldo, an internal medicine physician at Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center in Chicago.
“Many chronic health problems are made worse by the flu, particularly those that tax your immune system and makes it less able to fight off infections,” he says.
Heart disease, stroke
The connection between flu hospitalizations and heart disease is surprising. A 2018 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found the risk of heart attack was six times higher within a week of a confirmed flu infection. A more recent study showed that adults who had been hospitalized with flu over the last eight flu seasons found that sudden serious heart complications occurred in one out of every eight patients.
People with asthma are at high risk of developing serious flu complications, even if their asthma is mild or controlled by medication.
People with asthma can develop swollen and sensitive airways, and flu can cause further inflammation of the airways and lungs, triggering attacks. To make matters more dire, those with asthma are more likely to develop pneumonia after getting the flu than those that don’t have the respiratory condition.
“Even when it is well-managed, diabetes can still greatly affect or predispose patients toward certain health outcomes, including flu-related complications,” says Dr. Giraldo.
According to the CDC, about 30% of adult flu hospitalizations reported to the agency had diabetes. Those with diabetes are more likely to see pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus infections and ear infections associated with their bout with the flu. it can also make it harder to control blood sugar, as it can cause reduced appetite.
Like diabetes, Chronic Kidney Disease weakens your body’s immune system, making it easier for the flu to get a foothold and stick around this flu season.
“No matter what stage of the disease they have, including those who are going through dialysis treatment or have had a kidney transplant, the flu can go from inconvenient to dangerous quickly for those with chronic kidney disease,” says Dr. Giraldo.
“It is said each year, but getting your annual flu shot doesn’t just protect you,” says Dr. Giraldo. “There are people who depend on herd immunity to reduce the chance they are infected with it. It’s vitally important, particularly as we try to keep our hospitals as open as possible during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
About the Author
Nathan Lurz, health enews contributor, is a public affairs coordinator at Advocate Good Samaritan Hospital. He has nearly a decade of professional news experience as a reporter and editor, and a lifetime of experience as an enthusiastic learner. On the side, he enjoys writing even more, tabletop games, reading, running and explaining that his dog is actually the cutest dog, not yours, sorry.