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When Does the Flu Turn Deadly?

September 25, 2020
For most, contracting a case of the annual flu bug is a relatively mild, if uncomfortable experience, that clears up itself in about two weeks without medical intervention or antiviral drugs. However, for 3,000 to 49,000 people each year, according to the CDC, the flu becomes a deadly illness. Up to 90 percent of those who develop deadly flu complications are aged 65 and older, although other risk factors may contribute to your likelihood of developing serious flu-related complications.

When Is Flu Season?

Flu season in the United States can begin as early as October and can run as late as May. During this time, flu viruses are circulating at increased levels among our population, and experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend that all healthy persons aged six months and older who can should get an annual seasonal flu vaccine.

The CDC also has a list outlining groups of people who are at a high risk of developing flu-related complications if they become ill with the influenza virus. Preventive measures, including the flu vaccine, may be especially important in these populations, to prevent the onset of complications like pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus infections and ear infections.

What Serious Complications of the Flu Could Spell Trouble?

Influenza can leave patients susceptible to, or can trigger, a wide range of complications that range from more mild (such as ear infections) to life-threatening. Among the most serious complications for flu sufferers:

Pneumonia

During the 1958-59 flu epidemic that struck the United States, it was learned that the flu virus could cause pneumonia, a lung infection that mimics symptoms of the flu. Pneumonia with the flu can be a deadly combination because it causes fluid buildup (particularly in the lungs) and can reduce the body’s oxygen supply in the lungs and other tissues in the body. The elderly and those living in nursing homes or other communal, long-term care facilities are especially at risk for developing pneumonia with the flu.