Can I Decrease My Chances of Flu Complications?

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Action can be taken to minimize the effects of the flu.

Being sick is no fun as an adult.

It involves sick days, getting behind on work, and often family chaos as children and spouse attempt to adjust to a temporarily out-of-commission family member.

Even if the member is a child, plans are upended as someone must shift into a caretaking role.

According to a recent AARP article titled “Protect Yourself From Deadly Flu Complications,” flu season is often a peak time for sick days.

The flu can be more severe in older adults.
Starting treatment at first signs of the flu can improve the prognosis.

Although the severity of the flu season varies, nearly 750,000 to 1 million people are hospitalized from this illness each year in the United States, according to Ryan Oyer, M.D., an infectious disease specialist for Kaiser Permanente.

He also notes between 30,000 and 80,000 die each year from the flu.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that about 50 to 70 percent of influenza hospitalizations and 90 percent of deaths are found in populations age 65 or older.

Because the body fights off infection from the flu with an inflammatory response, the result is often respiratory distress, aches, and pains.

A fever spikes as the body begins to fight the infection.

The virus will infect cells lining the mucous membranes along the nose, throat, and bronchial tubes.

As a result, bacteria can clog air sacs in the lungs and make breathing a challenge.

Sepsis also can occur when bacteria moves into the blood stream and causes organ failure.


Because the body is less efficient at healing itself as it ages, older individuals have a greater risk of developing complications and of vaccines becoming less effective.

Similarly, older individuals have often developed other complicating health factors and illnesses like heart disease, diabetes, obesity, or chronically obstructive pulmonary disease.

These tend to lead to a greater negative flu impact on the body.

While personal factors influence the severity of the virus impact, the type of virus itself plays a role in whether the impact on the individual will be greater.

In the United States, the two primary strains are influenza A and influence B.

Strains H3N2 and H1N1 belong to influenza A and tend to be more severe.

Although H3N2 if often the more aggressive strain, the Spanish flu of 1918 was the H1N1 strain.

The 1918 Spanish flu was responsible for the deaths of 50 to 100 million people, to include my maternal great-grandparents who died within one week of one another.

This left my two-year-old grandmother orphaned.

Of course, this was more than 100 years ago.

What steps can you take to lower your risk of a severe case of influenza?

When you notice symptoms, reach out to your doctor immediately for treatment and begin an antiviral medication like oseltamivir (Tamiflu) within the 48 hours of symptom onset to help minimize the length and severity of the flu.

What are common symptoms?

Flu symptoms often involve dizziness, confusion, trouble urinating, returning or worsening cough, persistent pain or pressure in abdomen or chest, muscle pain, seizures, or worsening of chronic medical conditions.

Although the influenza vaccine tends to be less effective in seniors, most physicians still recommend getting the vaccine as well as the pneumococcal vaccine to help protect against secondary bacterial infection.

Taking care of your health can now can serve as a protective factor against flu complications in the future.

Reference: AARP (Sep. 10, 2021) “Protect Yourself from Deadly Flu Complications”

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