The U.S. flu season is expected to extend into spring, and experts say it's not too late to get a flu shot.
Last year's flu season was mild, but this season has already seen triple the number of flu-related deaths in the United States.
“Even a minor respiratory virus can be hard on someone with lung disease, and the flu is especially challenging,” said Dr. Albert Rizzo, chief medical officer for the American Lung Association.
“We want to reiterate that not only should people with any chronic illness get a flu shot, but their loved ones and friends should also protect them by getting the flu vaccine. It's imperative that we slow the spread of the flu this year as much as possible to continue to decrease the number of cases and hospitalizations, and to protect our most vulnerable loved ones,” Rizzo said in a news release from the American Heart Association, American Lung Association and American Diabetes Association.
The flu can cause serious complications for people who have chronic health conditions, leading to hospitalization and potentially death.
About 90% of people hospitalized for flu have at least one underlying medical condition, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
These can include heart disease, history of stroke, type 1 or type 2 diabetes, obesity and chronic lung disease, such as asthma, cystic fibrosis and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
“Adults who have cardiovascular disease face a significant risk of complications if they contract the flu,” said Dr. Eduardo Sanchez, the heart association's chief medical officer for prevention.
“For example, if you have heart disease and you're not vaccinated against the flu, you are six times more likely to have a heart attack within a week of infection," Sanchez noted. "The flu vaccine can be doubly protective — from bad flu and from its complications. While earlier in the season is ideal, we have a lot of flu season left, and it's better to get one now than not at all.”
Health professionals recommend the flu shot for anyone 6 months of age and older. They also recommend the COVID-19 vaccine. Both can be given at once. Those 65 and older should ask about the flu vaccines recommended for their age and get the best one that's available at that location at that time.
The CDC has reported 17,000 deaths from flu so far this season versus 5,000 flu deaths for the whole 2021-2022 influenza season.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on flu vaccines.
SOURCE: American Heart Association, news release, Feb. 6, 2023