Allercy and Asthma Health
The Official Publication of AAN - MA

2013 Flu Update: Who Should Get Vaccinated Against Influenza


by Eileen Censullo, MBA, RRT

Everyone has the same fear this year—besides opening up their credit card bills after the holidays—and that’s catching the flu, especially now that it has gotten to be an epidemic nationwide. The flu, or influenza, is a contagious respiratory illness caused by flu viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness and can be fatal.

The flu should not be confused with a cold. Flu symptoms come on suddenly. Often people who say they have the “flu” really just have another type of virus. Here is a list of some of the symptoms you may experience with the flu. You can have one or all of them.

  • Fever or feeling feverish/chills (not everyone will have a fever)
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue (tiredness)
  • Vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.

Flu complications

Most people who get the flu will recover in a few days to less than two weeks, but some will develop complications, some of which can be life-threatening and even result in death. Pneumonia, bronchitis, and sinus and ear infections are three examples of complications from the flu.

The flu can also make chronic health problems worse. For example, people with asthma may experience asthma attacks while they have the flu, and people with chronic congestive heart failure may have worsening of this condition that is triggered by the flu.

People at higher risk for flu

Anyone can get the flu (even healthy people), and serious problems from influenza can happen at any age. But some people are at higher risk of developing serious flu-related complications if they get sick. This includes people 65 years and older, people of any age with certain chronic medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, or heart disease), pregnant women, and young children.

Officials recommend that all persons age six months and older be vaccinated against the flu on an annual basis. Talk to your doctor, nurse, or respiratory therapist if you have any questions regarding which flu vaccine options are best for you and your family. Here are some groups for whom an annual flu vaccine is especially important:

  • Children age six months through four years. 
  • People age 50 and older.
  • Those with certain chronic pulmonary (including asthma), cardiovascular, renal, hepatic, neurologic, hematologic, and metabolic disorders (including diabetes).
  • Those who are immunosuppressed.
  • Those who are or will be pregnant during the influenza season.
  • Children age six months through 18 years who are receiving long-term aspirin therapy and who therefore might be at risk for experiencing Reye syndrome after influenza virus infection.
  • Residents of nursing homes and other chronic care facilities.
  • The morbidly obese (body mass index of 40 or greater).
  • Health care personnel.
  • Household contacts and caregivers of children younger than five and adults aged 50 years and older, with particular emphasis on vaccinating contacts of children younger than six months.
  • Household contacts and caregivers of persons with medical conditions that put them at higher risk for severe complications from influenza.

Remember, January and February are not too late to get vaccinated against the flu. Some county health departments offer free flu vaccinations, and pharmacies and physician practices offer flu vaccinations at a discounted rate on certain days. Let us all stay well this winter and prevent the spread of this deadly respiratory virus.

Eileen Censullo is a member of the American Association for Respiratory Care from Pennsylvania, where she serves as vice president of quality improvement and systems information for the American Heart Association. She is also president of the Pennsylvania Society for Respiratory Care.
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