Flu Can Be Deadly for Adults With Certain Chronic Health Conditions
Yet One in Four US Adults at High Risk Do Not Plan to Get Vaccinated This Season
Bethesda, MD (December 4, 2019) — For millions of individuals with heart disease, lung disease, and diabetes, getting sick with influenza (flu) can lead to serious complications, including hospitalization, permanent disability, and even death.
Annual flu vaccination can help prevent these complications, yet a recent survey of 1,002 US adults by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) found that one in four at-risk individuals said they were not planning to get vaccinated against flu this season.
In support of National Influenza Vaccination Week, December 1-7, 2019, NFID is working to raise awareness about the dangers of flu in adults with chronic health conditions and encourage at-risk adults to get vaccinated to lower their flu risk. The NFID #LowerYourFluRisk campaign includes public service announcements and infographics.
Estimates indicate that 31 percent of US adults age 50-64 years and 47 percent of those age 65 years and older have at least one chronic health condition that puts them at high risk for flu-related complications, even when their conditions are well controlled with lifestyle management and medication.
During the 2018-2019 flu season, approximately 93 percent of US adults who were hospitalized for flu-related complications had an underlying medical condition. The most common conditions reported were cardiovascular disease, diabetes, obesity, and chronic lung disease.
“Unfortunately, influenza infection is often just the beginning of the problem for patients with chronic health conditions. An often unrecognized danger of flu is that the resulting inflammation may last for several weeks after acute infection,” said NFID Medical Director William Schaffner, MD. “This inflammation can worsen a patient’s underlying disease and may lead to complications like heart attack and stroke.”
For patients living with heart disease, lung disease, and diabetes, flu can exacerbate their condition or trigger an event. For example,
- Individuals with heart disease are six times more likely to have a heart attack within seven days of flu infection;
- Flu can increase the rates of pneumonia in patients with asthma; and
- In people with diabetes, the virus can interfere with the management of blood sugar levels, making them three times more likely to die of flu-related complications, and six times more likely to be hospitalized.
Annual flu vaccination has been shown to improve outcomes for patients with certain chronic health conditions. Flu vaccines can reduce exacerbation of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and can reduce hospital admission rates for stroke, heart failure, and other causes of death in patients with type 2 diabetes. One study found that flu vaccination reduced the risk of cardiovascular events by 53 percent among individuals who had a heart attack in the last year.
“Annual vaccination against flu must be part of disease management for patients with chronic health conditions,” said Dr. Schaffner. “Frankly, it is just as important as exercise, eating a balanced diet, smoking cessation, or taking medication to lower cholesterol.”
Despite the strong recommendation of healthcare professionals, vaccination coverage among adults age 18-49 years with at least one chronic health condition was only 40 percent during the 2018-2019 flu season. A previous NFID survey found that most US adults are not aware that individuals with chronic health conditions face a higher risk of flu-related complications, including heart attack or stroke. In 2018, NFID issued a Call to Action and stressed the need for improved flu vaccination rates. More than 20 national organizations have signed on to support the goals of increasing awareness of the dangers of flu among adults with chronic health conditions and the benefits of annual flu vaccination.
About the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases
Founded in 1973, the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to educating the public and healthcare professionals about the burden, causes, prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of infectious diseases across the lifespan. For additional information, visit www.nfid.org/flu.
Contact: Diana Olson at 301-656-0003 x140