Risk factors and complications of flu
You are more susceptible to getting the flu virus if you are not immunised against it. An annual flu vaccine can help keep symptoms at bay.
Other ways you can also minimise your risk of contracting the flu virus include:
- Maintaining good hygiene: washing your hands with warm water often during the day is key to keeping the flu away. Hand sanitisers, particularly during high flu season, will also help.
- Healthy nutrition and diet: A balanced diet, along with regular exercise, plenty of rest and minimal stress are essential for a healthy immune system.
Other risk factors include:
- Pregnancy: Changes in a woman’s immune system during pregnancy can make her more vulnerable to complications from a bout of flu. There is also an increased risk of problems affecting her pregnancy and the baby if her illness worsens, but this is easily managed with the help of a medical professional. Prevention is also often better than cure, and most flu shots are safe for expectant moms. Flu shots can generally be given during any trimester but should always be discussed with your doctor or gynaecologist before opting for them. A nasal vaccine, however, is not recommended for pregnant women.
- Children under 2 years of age: Little ones are at higher risk for flu-related problems as their immune systems are generally weaker and fighting off new viruses and bacteria as they grow. It is reasonably normal for a youngster to get as many as 6 to 8 colds a year, as well as experience ear and sinus infections, bronchitis and croup. A baby under 6 months can’t get a flu shot, but parents, other family members and caregivers can get vaccinated themselves as a way to help protect the infant from falling ill from flu.
- Seniors: As we age, our immune systems weaken. Falling ill with flu in the latter stages of life can really take a toll on the body. Seniors (older than 65), and especially those living in a retirement centre, are at higher risk for getting the flu, as well as experiencing further complications. Seniors with other known conditions or long-term illnesses are also at a higher risk for further complications. A high-dose vaccine is recommended for those 65 and older. A higher dose generally has about 4 times as much active ingredient as a regular flu shot which can assist in keeping an older immune system a little healthier and stronger. Pneumococcal vaccines, which can help to protect older immune systems against serious illnesses such as meningitis, pneumonia and blood infections, are also recommended for those 65 years of age and above.
Common complications associated with the flu virus include:
- Viral or bacterial pneumonia
- Ear infections
- Sinus infections
- Muscle inflammation (myositis)
- Central nervous system problems
- The flu can also worsen long-term medical conditions such as congestive heart failure, asthma or diabetes.