The flu: Who is high risk and what can be done?

Posted November 30, 2015

If anyone in your home has the flu, keep contact to a minimum and consistently wash your hands with soap and water or rinse with alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

The flu is a severe illness that can last two to three weeks in most healthy children and adults, but the virus can become deadly if it infects certain high-risk people. Considering how highly contagious the flu can be, it’s important for high-risk individuals to be aware of the ways to prevent and treat the flu.

Who is Considered High-Risk?

Children 6 months and younger and the elderly -- 65 and older -- are at highest risk for serious and potentially deadly flu illness, and the CDC estimates that seasonal flu-related deaths in the United States ranged from 3,000 to a high of nearly 49,000.

The elderly are more likely to need hospitalization if they become ill with the virus, because their circulatory system is often weaker and they may struggle with respiratory health. A seemingly healthy grandparent can quickly end up in a hospital bed because of the flu.

Similarly, babies and infants are at high-risk of serious illness related to the flu virus because their immune, circulatory and respiratory systems are still developing and are extremely vulnerable.

What Can Be Done?

The best way to fight the flu and protect those considered high-risk for serious flu-related illness is to stop the virus before it starts. Have elderly family members vaccinated as soon as the vaccine becomes available. There is a higher-dose vaccine specifically made for people 65 and older.

Since children 6 months and younger cannot be vaccinated, it is paramount that parents, caretakers and other household family members be vaccinated in order to protect the child.

Other preventative measures include:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are ill
  • Wash hands with soap and water, or use alcohol based hand-sanitizer
  • If sick with flu-like symptoms, stay home for 24 hours after the fever has passed to seek any other treatment
  • Routinely clean often-touched surfaces in the home or office, such as doorknobs, phones, handles and keyboards.
  • Avoid all human contact
  • Maintain healthy lifestyle habits as best as possible, including getting enough sleep and eating well, to help keep your immune system strong

Prevention measures and precautions like these will help protect high-risk individuals during flu season.

This story was written for our sponsor, the N.C. Division of Public Health.


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  • John Weston Jan 25, 2016
    user avatar

    I must not have common sense. Here's what I do know, anecdotal as it may be. Eat healthy (not the food pyramid but real, whole and colorful food), exercise, and take vitamins, especially this time of year. Boost your immune system instead of wearing it down with the boxed and processed "food" passed off on us nowadays, and you will go a long way to avoiding flu and colds and lots of other chronic maladies. I'd venture to say half the time they guess wrong on the flu strains anyway. Good luck with all those shots, hope it helps you but I doubt it. I quit getting them ten years ago and made the changes I spoke of and have not gotten the flu since, I hardly ever get a cold. I still got the flu some years even with the shot due to a run down immune system. Here's one more tidbit, from 2015, on one of those high risk groups for anyone interested:

  • Norman Lewis Jan 25, 2016
    user avatar

    High risk individuals as far as the flu goes have not changed in hundreds of years. No one with any common sense goes without a flu shot. A moment of discomfort to prevent several days of acute, potentially critical suffering sounds like a great deal to me. I have for MANY years gotten a flu shot.

  • Alex Stephens Jan 25, 2016
    user avatar

    I'm not too concerned as last week only 565 tested positive in a county of 320,000,000 which reduces to less than 1 person confirmed with flu for every 500,000. So in all the Triangle with a population of 2,000,000 there are 4 people with the flu and my odds of bumping into them, let alone contracting the virus, are 1 in 500,000 or about as good as winning the lottery it seems to me.