Knowing the risk factors for flu complications

The best defense against the flu is good handwashing, staying away from others who are sick and getting a flu shot every year.

That's important to prevent severe complications from the flu. Complications, unfortunately, can happen to anyone, but some people are at greater risk and they may not even know it.

Generally it's the very young, under 5 years old, and seniors over 65-years-old who face a greater risk for complications from the flu.

"When you get older, there are changes in your immune system that actually occur that will predispose you to getting the flu. Unfortunately with aging as well your ability to fight off the flu becomes impaired," said Dr. Ronan Factora from the Cleveland Clinic.

One of the most dangerous complications is getting a secondary infection - bacterial pneumonia.

"In those situations, people often are beginning to feel better after their initial illness, and then they develop a fever, shortness of breath, a cough, that type of thing, that is different," said Dr. Susan Rehm from the Cleveland Clinic.

That's a sign to see a healthcare provider right away.

Others at a greater risk include anyone with asthma, heart disease, diabetes, kidney or liver conditions and even obesity.

Pregnant women are also on the list and strongly encouraged to get a flu shot.

Experts say even if the vaccine can't 100 percent prevent influenza, it can help protect against severe illness.

"As a matter of fact, last year one hundred and eighty children died of influenza, and eighty percent of those children had not been vaccinated," said Dr. Rehm.

Research shows the flu can also put you at a greater risk for heart attack, especially if you already have heart disease, so make sure you want to do what you can to protect yourself.

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