What Puts You at Risk for the Flu?

Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Robinson, MD on August 17, 2022

Are you more likely to catch the flu this season? What about your family members or colleagues?

Knowing what boosts your odds of getting the illness can help you and those around you avoid it.

You’re most likely to get the flu if you don’t get immunized against it. The best way to avoid catching it is to get an annual flu vaccine.

Because the strain of flu virus changes over time, doctors come out with a new vaccine every year. So, it's important to stay current and get vaccinated each year -- preferably by the end of October. But anytime before flu season begins or even during is good.

The American Lung Association offers an online flu-vaccine clinic locator. Visit the site, enter your zip code and a date (or dates), and you'll get info about clinics scheduled in your area.

There's also a nasal flu vaccine called FluMist, which contains weakened live viruses. Don't get this nasal spray vaccine if you're pregnant, if you have HIV/AIDS or another medical condition that weakens your immune system. FluMist is approved for healthy people between 2 and 49 years old. 

In addition, there is a “needle-less” option for people 18-64 years old:  the jet injector vaccine with Afluria, which uses a tool with high pressure to deliver the vaccine.

Frequent and thorough hand washing is key to keeping the flu away. Wash often during the day, and use warm water. Scrub them clean for about 20 seconds -- as long as it takes to sing “Happy Birthday” twice. Teach your family members to do the same.

Keep hand sanitizer with you at all times in case you can’t get to a sink.

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

Your immune system may not be up to par if you don’t eat a balanced diet, get regular exercise and plenty of sleep, and manage your stress.

Pregnant women have changes in their immune system, heart and lungs, which makes them vulnerable to more severe illness from the flu.  The flu can also cause problems with the pregnancy and the baby.

The flu shot is safe for pregnant women and can be given in any trimester.  The nasal vaccine should not be given to pregnant women.

Children under 2 years old are at high risk for flu-related problems.

A youngster’s growing immune system is always fighting off new viruses and bacteria. It's normal for a tot to get as many as six to eight colds a year, along with ear and sinus infections, bronchitis, and croup.

A kid who’s often sick or who has a weak immune system is more likely to catch the flu and have complications with it.

How can you protect your child?

  • Watch what they put in their mouth.
  • Wash teething rings, pacifiers, and other "mouth" toys often with soap and water, then dry them.
  • Wash their hands with soap and water often.
  • Replace their toothbrush frequently, and keep it apart from other family members' brushes.

If you have a newborn, it's important to protect them from people who have flu symptoms. Ask your day care about its "sick child" policy. Can parents drop off kids who have fever or other symptoms?

Babies under 6 months can’t get flu shots. That means parents, family members, and caregivers should get vaccinated to protect little ones from the flu.

As you age, your immune system weakens, and the flu can take more of a toll on you. Seniors also have a higher risk for getting other problems along with the flu.

Most people who wind up in the hospital or die from the flu are 65 or older. Folks in this age group are also more likely to have a long-term illness like heart disease, diabetes, or lung disease that make them more likely to get the flu.

A high-dose vaccine called Fluzone is recommended for those 65 and older. It has four times as much active ingredient as a regular flu shot. That means it can do a better job of getting an older immune system up and running.

People who live in crowded places are more likely to get the flu. If you or a loved one is over 65, talk to a doctor about a flu shot plus the pneumococcal vaccines. It can protect you from more than 20 types of bacteria that cause serious diseases like meningitis, pneumonia, and blood infections.

If you’re a healthy adult over 65, you may get two different pneumococcal vaccines. The timing and sequence will vary.

Doctors may suggest this vaccine for some younger adults, particularly those with a higher risk for infections because of liver or heart disease, COPD, kidney failure, diabetes, cancer, and other chronic illnesses.

Show Sources

Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America: "Flu (Influenza)."
FDA: "Influenza: Vaccination Still the Best Protection."
Mayo Clinic: "Influenza (Flu)."
FDA: "The Flu."
CDC: "Key Facts About Seasonal Flu Vaccine;" "Pneumococcal Polysaccharide Vaccine;" and "What You Should Know and Do This Flu Season If You Are 65 years and Older."
American Lung Association: "Find a Flu Clinic" and "Missed Opportunities: Influenza and Pneumonia Vaccination in Older Adults."
American Heart Association: "Influenza and Heart Disease."
American Diabetes Association: "Flu & Pneumonia Shots."
CDC: "Nasal Spray Flu Vaccine in Children 2 through 8 Years Old." 

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