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What Puts You at Risk for the Flu?

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How Can I Protect my Young Child From Flu?

It's important to protect young children from flu germs by watching what they put in their mouths. Keep teething rings, pacifiers, and other "mouth" toys clean by washing them frequently with soap and water and then drying them. In addition, frequently wash your infant or young child's hands with soap and water, because small children are always sucking their hands or fingers. Replace your young child's toothbrush frequently and keep the toothbrush separate from other family members' brushes.

Remember, flu is spread by people who are already infected. The most common flu "hot spots" are surfaces that an infected person has touched and rooms where he or she has been recently, especially areas where the person has sneezed.

If you have a newborn, it's important to protect your baby from people who may have flu symptoms. If your young child attends day care, make sure there's a "sick child" policy that says parents are not allowed to bring children who have fever or other symptoms of illness to the day-care facility.

Because babies under age 6 months cannot get flu shots, parents, family members, and caregivers should get flu shots to protect the infant from the flu. The CDC recommends that parents keep themselves and their babies away from people who are sick to prevent flu.

For in-depth information, see WebMD's Children and Flu.

Do Older Adults Have an Increased Risk of Getting Flu?

Older people have a higher risk for getting flu-related complications. The CDC estimates that 90% of flu-related deaths and over 60% of flu-related hospitalizations each year happen in seniors ages 65 and older. With age, the immune system weakens so it is easier for flu to become more serious in older people. Older people may also be more likely to have chronic health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and lung disease that further increase flu risk. 

A high-dose vaccine is now available for older adults. The high-dose flu shot contains four times as much active ingredient as a regular flu shot. Studies have shown that giving higher doses may more effectively rouse an older immune system.

Is the Risk of Flu Greater in Retirement Centers?

When people live in crowded living environments such as retirement centers or nursing homes, the risk of getting sick from the flu virus increases. In a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers compared healthy nursing home patients with those harboring antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Researchers found three key reasons for the spread of resistant infections: overuse of antibiotics, low hand-washing rates among personnel, and patient transfers between the nursing home and hospital.

If you or a loved one is over age 65, talk to a doctor about a flu shot and a pneumococcal vaccine. The pneumococcal vaccine can provide immunity against more than 20 types of pneumococcal bacteria that are more likely to cause serious diseases such as meningitis, pneumonia, or blood infections. Doctors may recommend the pneumococcal vaccine for some younger adults, particularly those who are at increased risk for infection because of liver or heart disease, COPD, kidney failure, diabetes, cancer, and other chronic illnesses.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by David T. Derrer, MD on August 27, 2013
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