In recent weeks, the American public has been hit with a wave of three heavy-hitting respiratory viruses: COVID, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and the flu. Hospitalizations for these conditions have risen in tandem, representing one of the worst seasons for respiratory illness on record, as reported by The New York Times.
But according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), not everyone is at equal risk when it comes to hospitalization for respiratory illness. The health authority says that nine out of 10 people hospitalized with the flu during recent seasons had at least one underlying health condition—and most of those people had one of four conditions in particular.
While getting an annual flu shot is a great way for anyone to protect against the flu, it’s especially important for people with these four underlying conditions, the CDC says. Those with more than one underlying condition are most urgently at risk.
Read on to learn which four health conditions have been linked with 90 percent of flu hospitalizations, and how you can protect yourself this winter.
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The CDC says that asthma is one of the most common conditions linked with flu hospitalization. “People with asthma are at higher risk of developing serious flu complications, even if their asthma is mild or their symptoms are well-controlled by medication” the health authority explains. “People with asthma can develop swollen and sensitive airways, and flu can cause further inflammation of the airways and lungs,” their experts note.
The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America adds that individuals with asthma should contact their doctor immediately if they get the flu. They also urge those with asthma to get the flu vaccine as soon as it becomes available each season. “If you have asthma, the risks of flu complications are far greater than not getting the vaccine,” they write.
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Heart disease has also been linked with serious flu complications which can result in hospitalization. “Among adults hospitalized with flu during recent flu seasons, heart disease was one of the most common chronic (long-term) conditions—about half of adults hospitalized with flu have heart disease,” explains the CDC.
For those with heart disease, flu can also trigger acute heart episodes such as heart attack and stroke, the health authority warns. In fact, a 2018 study published in The European Respiratory Journal found that individuals with heart disease are more than 10 times more likely to develop a heart attack after getting the flu.
An additional 30 percent of adult flu hospitalizations are linked with another underlying condition: diabetes. “Acute illnesses like flu can make it harder to control your blood sugar levels. Flu may raise your blood sugar levels, but sometimes people don’t feel like eating when they are sick and a reduced appetite can cause blood sugar levels to fall,” CDC experts explain.
The good news? Being vaccinated against the flu has been shown to reduce hospitalizations among people with diabetes by 79 percent, the CDC says.
Chronic kidney disease (CKD) can weaken one’s immune response, making those with CKD particularly vulnerable to the flu. For this reason, “people with CKD at any stage, people who have had a kidney transplant, and people who are undergoing dialysis treatment are all at increased risk of severe illness from flu,” warns the CDC. They urge that vaccination is especially important in those with renal disease.
According to the National Kidney Foundation, those with kidney disease should discuss their flu vaccination options with their doctors. “Flu shots come in a standard or higher dose. Those with kidney disease are likely to get the higher dose vaccine, although it is currently only approved by the FDA for people over the age of 65,” they explain. “There is also a nasal spray vaccine, but it’s not recommended for those with advanced stages of kidney disease or who have a kidney transplant because it is only available as a live, weakened vaccine.”
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Though these four underlying conditions are linked with the vast majority of flu hospitalizations, the CDC says there are a handful of other conditions which could lead to flu complications. Those include blood disorders, certain neurological conditions, chronic lung disease, liver disorders, metabolic disorders, and certain disabilities which may affect the immune system or one’s ability to breathe or keep the airways clear.
All people with the flu should look out for emergency signs of flu complications. Seek immediate medical care if you develop difficulty breathing, persistent chest or abdominal pain, dizziness or confusion, seizures, muscle pain, unsteadiness, or changes in urination. Additionally, those with chronic medical conditions should be on the lookout for worsening symptoms of their condition. Speak with your doctor about how to stay safe from flu season if you have a known underlying condition of any kind—and be sure to get vaccinated before each flu season begins.