Flu Complications: Who is Most At Risk?

Kenneth Knowles, MD
Medically reviewed by Kenneth Knowles, MDJanuary 2nd, 2020
Sick grandmother and child

Winter’s arrival marks some of our favorite things: the holidays, snow days, cozy nights spent inside drinking hot cocoa. It also marks a less welcome arrival: flu season. Every year, around 8% of the American population contracts influenza, commonly referred to as the flu. For some, recovery is simple: rest, hydration, and lots of sleep will do the trick. Others, however, are at high risk of developing flu complications. Keep reading to find out if you’re among the number of people who need to take special care this flu season.

Flu Complications

Before we dive into the groups of people who are at high risk of developing flu complications, let’s first specify what those complications are. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), common flu complications include:

  • Pneumonia
  • Sinus infections
  • Ear infections
  • Heart inflammation (myocarditis)
  • Brain inflammation (encephalitis)
  • Muscle inflammation (myositis, rhabdomyolysis)
  • Respiratory or kidney failure
  • Sepsis
  • Worsening of chronic medical conditions, such as asthma or heart disease

Given these complications, people in the following groups need to take special care when it comes to the flu.

Infants and Children

Parents, take heed. According to the CDC, infants and children under the age of five are at high risk of developing flu complications. This is mostly due to the fact that their immune systems are still developing. And if your child has a chronic health condition, such as asthma or diabetes, they may be at an even greater risk of flu complications.

The best thing you can do to aid in your child’s defense against the flu? Get them vaccinated. Infants and kids aged 6 months and older can and should be vaccinated against the flu to avoid complications down the line.

Pregnant Women

When women become pregnant, their bodies undergo changes that affect their lungs, heart, and immune system. This puts them at greater risk of developing complications from the common flu, if they catch it. Not only can the flu lead to common complications in pregnant women, but it can even lead to birth defects and premature labor.

Fortunately, the flu vaccine is perfectly safe for pregnant women. If you’re pregnant, you should get vaccinated as soon as possible. And, if you do notice flu-like symptoms come on, be sure to seek medical attention as soon as possible to avoid potential complications.

Adults Over the Age of 65

Since our immune systems weaken with age, people over the age of 65 are at higher risk of developing flu complications than younger adults. Older adults often have other health conditions to get on with, such as congestive heart failure (CHF) or kidney issues, which flu complications can worsen.

There are two things elderly individuals can do to protect themselves against developing flu complications. The first is to get vaccinated. The FDA has approved a high-dose flu vaccination specifically for adults over the age of 65. It’s four times stronger than the regular flu vaccine in order to provide greater antibody protection and immune response. Secondly, if you do notice flu-like symptoms come on, make sure to see a doctor as soon as possible to seek treatment. Early detection can save you from developing complications down the road!

People with Chronic Health Conditions or Weakened Immune Systems

People with chronic health conditions or weakened immune systems aren’t as easily able to combat the flu, which puts them at higher risk of developing complications. Chronic health conditions can include:

  • Asthma
  • Brain/spinal conditions
  • Lung, heart, or kidney, liver, or blood diseases
  • Diabetes
  • Metabolic syndrome

People with weakened immune systems can include those with diseases, such as HIV or AIDS, and those who partake in immune-weakening medications or treatments, such as chemotherapy. If you’re under the age of 19 and have been on long-term aspirin therapy, you also may be at an increased risk of developing flu complications.

The CDC recommends vaccination to help protect against the flu and its complications. Make an appointment with your doctor to talk about which flu vaccination is right for you specifically, depending on your chronic health condition, disease, or other treatments.

In-Home Flu Treatment from DispatchHealth

If you’re a member of one of these groups, it’s important that you take special care when it comes to the flu. Getting vaccinated and making sure to seek medical attention as soon as possible after noticing flu-like symptoms can make a world of a difference in your health. Whether you’re a member of these groups or not, if you’ve contracted the flu, medical attention can expedite your recovery process and help defend against flu complications that can have long-lasting damage.


DispatchHealth can help. Skip the drive and the wait in the germy waiting area of the emergency room or urgent care center; we offer convenient, in-home medical care to people of all ages who have contracted the flu. After you contact us, we’ll be at your doorstep within hours with most of the gear you’ll find in an emergency room. We accept most major forms of medical insurance, too, including Medicare and Medicaid, and offer an affordable flat rate for uninsured patients. Requesting care is easy; contact us via our website, our app, or over the phone to receive flu treatment at your doorstep.

If you are experiencing a life-threatening emergency, please call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department.


DispatchHealth relies only on authoritative sources, including medical associations, research institutions, and peer-reviewed medical studies.

Sources referenced in this article:

  1. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/keyfacts.htm
  2. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/symptoms/symptoms.htm
  3. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/prevent/keyfacts.htm
  4. https://www.cdc.gov/flu/highrisk/pregnant.htm
  5. https://www.fda.gov/vaccines-blood-biologics/vaccines/fluzone-fluzone-high-dose-and-fluzone-intradermal
The DispatchHealth blog provides tips, tricks and advice for improving lives through convenient, comfortable healthcare.

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