We are in the middle of flu season—but how much do you really know about this virus?
Influenza—more commonly called “the flu”—is a virus that affects the nose, lungs, and throat, and spreads to others easily through droplets from coughing, sneezing, or talking.
Symptoms can include fever, chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headache, fatigue, and sometimes diarrhea and vomiting.
While most young and otherwise healthy people who get the flu will recover in a few days or a couple of weeks, they usually end up missing work and other meaningful activities, are unable to care for their families and fulfill other obligations while they’re sick, and have to isolate while they are contagious.
We’ve had the flu in my family, and it has thankfully always been mild. But that’s not always the case. Each year in the U.S., flu infections result in hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations and tens of thousands of deaths from related complications from pneumonia, sepsis, organ failure, heart attack, and more. The risk of heart attack is particularly alarming and goes up six times within a week of a confirmed flu infection—even in people without a history of heart disease.
Allison Miller was 33 years old and healthy when she got the flu and ended up in the hospital and intensive care unit (ICU) for three months, lost a leg, and has permanent lung and heart damage. She thought she was too young to need a flu vaccine and is now an advocate sharing her story so more people will go out and get their flu shot each year.
When we taped Allison’s story for the Alliance’s Real Stories of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases video series at the beginning of this year’s flu season, and I still hadn’t gotten my vaccine. But her story was so powerful, that I got vaccinated the next week. I’m so grateful that Allison was willing to share her experience and help raise awareness about the seriousness of vaccine-preventable diseases like the flu.
Older adults are more susceptible to contracting the flu, and to experiencing more intense flu symptoms which can lead to hospitalization and even long-term complications. Visit the Our Best Shot section of our website to learn more about the flu vaccine, enhanced flu vaccines for older adults, and the importance of a variety of vaccines at all ages.
You can watch Allison’s story here and learn more about her journey.
Lindsay Clarke, JD, is the Alliance for Aging Research’s Senior Vice President of Health Education & Advocacy.