Influenza (flu) can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. Flu is different from a cold. Flu usually comes on suddenly. People who have flu often feel some or all of these symptoms: fever* or feeling feverish/chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, fatigue (tiredness), some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults. It’s important to note that not everyone with flu will have a fever.
“It's really important to reduce the risk of getting the flu, which is what the flu vaccine does,” says Joe Novinger, DO, Northeast Family Health. “This is particularly important this year, when we could very well face the confluence of influenza and COVID-19.”
Most people who get flu will recover in a few days to less than two weeks, but some people will develop complications (such as pneumonia) as a result of flu, some of which can be life-threatening and result in death.
“Getting vaccinated against both the flu and COVID protects against both and reduces the likelihood of spreading these viruses to others,” says Novinger.
Sinus and ear infections are examples of moderate complications from flu, while pneumonia is a serious flu complication that can result from either flu virus infection alone or from co-infection of flu virus and bacteria.
Other possible serious complications triggered by flu can include inflammation of the heart (myocarditis), brain (encephalitis) or muscle tissues (myositis, rhabdomyolysis), and multi-organ failure (for example, respiratory and kidney failure).
Flu virus infection of the respiratory tract can trigger an extreme inflammatory response in the body and can lead to sepsis, the body’s life-threatening response to infection. Flu also can make chronic medical problems worse. For example, people with asthma may experience asthma attacks while they have flu, and people with chronic heart disease may experience a worsening of this condition triggered by flu.
Anyone can get sick with flu, even healthy people and serious problems related to flu can happen to anyone at any age, but some people are at higher risk of developing serious flu-related complications if they get sick. This includes people 65 years and older, people of any age with certain chronic medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes, or heart disease), pregnant people, and children younger than 5 years, but especially those younger than 2 years old.
Joe Novinger is a Family Practice physician at Northeast Missouri Health Council's Northeast Family Health clinic located in Kirksville, Missouri. Contact the clinic to schedule an appointment today. 660-627-4493