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Older adults account for about 80% of annual flu-related deaths in the United States.2

In the 2018–2019 influenza season, an estimated 279,384 older adults in the United States were hospitalized because of the flu, accounting for almost 57% of flu-related hospitalizations.3

Older adults experience longer hospital stays than younger adults.4, 5 This may have a negative impact on their quality of life following discharge.6


Complications from influenza can lead to life-threatening conditions in older adults. Serious complications include7:

Myocarditis, encephalitis, myositis, or rhabdomyolysis
Multi-organ failure (e.g., respiratory and kidney failure)
Respiratory tract infection leading to an extreme inflammatory response and sepsis.

Those Living With Chronic Diseases

Influenza is particularly dangerous for adults living with chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart and lung conditions.8 Many adults remain unaware that they have a chronic disease, and ensuring that they get vaccinated provides a layer of protection for these potentially vulnerable people.


In recent influenza seasons, people with diabetes account for about 30% of adult flu hospitalizations.9

Heart conditions

Patients with heart disease, or those who had a stroke, have a higher risk of serious complications from influenza, including myocarditis, inflammation of muscle tissues, heart attack, and multi-organ failure.8

Lung conditions

Patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, or other lung conditions also have a higher risk of complications from influenza. Since people with these conditions have sensitive airways, inflammation caused by the flu can make COPD symptoms worse, trigger asthma attacks, and easily lead to the development of pneumonia and other respiratory diseases.8


Immunosenescence is the biological aging process associated with progressive decline in systemic immunity. This gradual deterioration of the immune system, brought on by natural aging, can cause increased susceptibility to common infectious diseases, including influenza, among older adults.1, 10

Additionally, inflamm-aging, a chronic progressive increase in the proinflammatory status of the older adult, contributes to all aging-related diseases and renders older adults more vulnerable to complications as a result of infection with influenza.11


Even when they recover from the flu, older adults may never fully regain their pre-influenza health, abilities, and lifestyle.6 Moreover, for months after getting the flu, older adults may still be at increased risk of cardiovascular problems such as heart attack or stroke, due to lingering inflammation and an increased risk of blood clots associated with infections like influenza.1

1. Call to Action: Reinvigorating Influenza Prevention in U.S. Adults Age 65 Years and Older. National foundation for Infectious Diseases. Accessed October 2020. 2. Past Seasons Influenza Estimated Disease Burden. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed October 2020. 3. Estimated Influenza Illnesses, Medical visits, Hospitalizations, and Deaths in the United States — 2018–2019 Influenza season. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed October 2020. 4. Study Shows Hospitalization Rates and Risk of Death from Seasonal flu Increase with Age Among People 65 Years and Older. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Thompson WW, Shary DK, Weintraub E, et al. Influenza-Associated Hospitalizations in the United States. JAMA. 2004;292(11):1333–1340. Doi:10.1001/jama.292.11.1333 Accessed October 2020. 6. Preventing Flu in Older Adults. Medscape. November 1, 2017. Accessed October 2020. 7. Flu Symptoms and Complications. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed October 2020. 8. People at High Risk for Flu Complications. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed October 2020. 9. Flu and People with Diabetes. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed October 2020. 10. Aw D, Silva AB, Palmer DB. Immunosenescence: emerging challenges for an ageing population. Immunology. 2007:120(4):435-446. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2567.2007.02555.x. Accessed October 2020. 11. Xia S, Zhang X, Zheng S, et al. An Update on Inflamm-Aging: Mechanisms, Prevention, and Treatment. Journal of Immunology Research. 2016;2015:8426874. doi.10.1155/2016/8426874. Accessed October 2020.

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