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Is the flu serious?

Dr. Jeanne Morrison, PhD
Family Practitioner

For healthy adults, influenza (flu) may just be an inconvenience, which a few days in bed will take care of. But for those who are at risk for complications of influenza, such as young children, those over 50, those with chronic diseases such as diabetes, or those with suppressed immune systems, influenza can lead to life-threatening complications such as pneumonia. Each year, about 200,000 people in the United States must be hospitalized for complications related to influenza; as many as 49,000 of these people die.

Flu season generally begins in September or October, and an average of 25,000 people die in the United States each year of flu-related complications and more than 200,000 are hospitalized, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Countless others suffer at home, missing days of work or school.

Dr. David L. Katz, MD, MPH
Preventive Medicine Specialist

The most common, lethal complication of the flu is pneumonia, leading to respiratory compromise and cyanosis. We have all witnessed firsthand the threat of pandemic flu with the recent circulation of the H1N1 strain. A truly bad flu pandemic warrants a great deal of respect—and every kind of self-defense we can mount.

The flu pandemic of 1918 caused more deaths than World War I and World War II combined! But even garden-variety influenza causes roughly 30,000 deaths each year in the United States alone. None of this is cause for panic. All of it is cause to take the threat of flu seriously and to put some good preventive strategies to work for you and your family.

Stacy Wiegman, PharmD
Pharmacy Specialist

Some people develop complications from the flu that can be very serious and even life-threatening. One serious complication is pneumonia. It is also possible to develop sinusitis, bronchitis and ear infections. However, most people recover from influenza without treatment.

Dr. Elif E. Oker, MD
Medical Toxicologist

For most people, the flu is not serious and resolves on its own with time, rest and TLC. For some people, the flu can be serious and in some cases deadly.

People at higher risk for complications from the flu include very young children, the elderly and people with chronic diseases or weakened immune systems.

Flu is unpredictable, and how severe it is can vary widely from one season to the next depending on many things, including:

  • What flu viruses are spreading
  • How much flu vaccine is available
  • When vaccine is available
  • How many people get vaccinated
  • How well the flu vaccine is matched to flu viruses that are causing illness.

Certain people are at greater risk for serious complications if they get the flu. This includes older people, young children, pregnant women, and people with certain health conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, or heart disease), and persons who live in facilities like nursing homes.

Flu seasons are unpredictable and can be severe. Over a period of 30 years, between 1976 and 2006, estimates of flu-associated deaths in the United States range from a low of about 3,000 to a high of about 49,000 people.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.