During the 2017-2018 influenza (flu) season, nearly 80,000 people died and more than 950,000 people were hospitalized due to flu and flu-related illnesses, and less than four in 10 U.S. adults (37.1 percent) were vaccinated against flu, fewer than in previous years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). While those who are vaccinated may still get the flu, the vaccine helps prevent serious complications that may result in hospitalization, loss of independence or even death.
It is particularly important for people with certain chronic health conditions like heart disease, diabetes and lung disease to receive an annual flu vaccine, as they are at higher risk for flu-related complications. In fact, 92 percent of those hospitalized for flu during the 2017-2018 season had an underlying medical condition that put them at risk for serious flu-related complications.
In July 2018, the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) convened leading medical experts from nearly 20 national healthcare organizations to raise awareness of the dangers of flu among U.S. adults with certain chronic health conditions including heart disease, lung disease and diabetes, and the need for increased flu vaccination rates among at-risk adults.
"It is essential for everyone age 6 months and older to receive an annual flu vaccine," said NFID Medical Director William Schaffner, M.D. "For people with conditions like heart disease, diabetes or lung disease, it is an important part of managing their condition, like taking a statin, checking their glucose or using an inhaler."
Surprisingly, there is low awareness of the connection between chronic health conditions and serious flu-related complications. A new survey from NFID revealed that:
* Less than a quarter of U.S. adults recognize that people with heart disease (24 percent) and diabetes (22 percent) are at greater risk for flu-related complications, and awareness is significantly less for people of color than white respondents.
* Less than 20 percent of U.S. adults are aware that heart attack (16 percent), worsening of diabetes (16 percent), stroke (13 percent) and disability (10 percent) can occur as potential complications of flu.
The dangers are real. Research shows that individuals with heart disease are up to 10 times more likely to have a heart attack within three days of flu infection and people with diabetes are at six times increased risk of flu-related hospitalization.
"Flu causes inflammation in the body that can result in serious complications," said Albert Rizzo, M.D., Chief Medical Officer, American Lung Association. "For the more than 31 million people living with lung disease such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, flu can worsen their condition and lead to a loss of lung function."
More information on the connection between flu and serious complications for those with certain chronic health conditions can be found at www.nfid.org/flu-chronic-health-conditions.