Why Flu Is Riskier for Some People

Medically Reviewed by Carol DerSarkissian, MD on July 28, 2021

You need to take special care to avoid the flu if you have any of these long-term medical conditions:

  • Asthma, emphysema, and other lung problems
  • Diabetes
  • Stroke and other neurologic and developmental conditions
  • Heart disease
  • Cancer
  • Kidney, liver, and blood problems
  • HIV or AIDS
  • Children under 19 who need to take aspirin for a long time
  • Any condition that weakens the immune system

The same is true if you’re:

  • Pregnant
  • Obese
  • 65 years old or older

Be sure to get a flu shot every year. It’s the best way to prevent the flu. Get the vaccine as soon as it’s available, ideally by October. That's about the time that flu season begins.

If you come down with something you think might be the flu, call your doctor. You may be able to take medicine that will help you feel better sooner and prevent complications.

If you have trouble breathing, call 911.

Your health condition makes you more likely than other people to have complications, like pneumonia, from the flu. Without medical care, these problems can be life-threatening.

For instance, if you have diabetes, your immune system may be weaker than normal. If you have heart disease, the flu can make your heart work harder, which is risky.

It can begin as early as September and last as late as May.

Your best bet is to get the flu vaccine as soon as it becomes available each fall. But you can still get vaccinated in January or later. The flu shot starts to work about 2 weeks after your vaccination.

You have many options, including your doctor’s office, local health clinics, and many supermarkets and drugstores.

The American Lung Association’s web site offers an online flu vaccine clinic locator. You enter your ZIP code and get information about clinics scheduled in your area.

No. Unlike the flu shot, the nasal flu vaccine, called FluMist, contains live, weakened viruses. You shouldn’t take it if you’re pregnant or have a long-term health condition. This form of the vaccine is only approved for healthy people ages 2-49. The nasal spray is also not recommended for use during the 2021-2022 season because it might not be effective.

Show Sources


CDC: "Estimating Seasonal Influenza-Associated Deaths in the United States: CDC Study Confirms Variability of Flu."

CDC: "Seasonal Influenza-Associated Hospitalizations in the United States."

CDC: "Children, the Flu, and the Flu Vaccine."

CDC: "Flu and People with Asthma."

CDC: "People at High Risk of Developing Flu-Related Complications."

Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America: "Asthma Facts and Figures."

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases: "Flu (Influenza) -- Prevention."

Family Doctor: "Flu Facts."

American Lung Association: "Influenza Fact Sheet."

MedlinePlus: "Flu."

MedlinePlus: "Common Cold."

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