The 411 on the Flu

The 411 on the Flu

It's flu season, and millions of American will contract the virus. African-Americans will suffer disproportionately from flu-related complications, which can be fatal. Vaccinations are a must, doctors advise.

Published November 14, 2011

Influenza. A malady with a nickname we all know: The flu. It’s a misery that comes around every year, and it afflicts millions.

Anyone can get it, healthy or not, but some people are at higher risk of developing serious flu-related complications. It's estimated that between 5 and 20 percent of the U.S. population contracts influenza, and more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from complications of it. And an annual estimate of between 3,000 and 49,000 deaths a year were attributable to the flu between 1976 and 2007.

So what exactly is the flu? It's a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses.  
Some common symptoms include:

•    Fever or feeling feverish/chills (not everyone has this symptom)

•    Cough

•    Sore throat

•    Runny or stuffy nose

•    Muscle or body aches

•    Headaches

•    Tiredness

•    Vomiting and/or diarrhea, but that's more common in children.

In some cases, the flu can lead to other serious conditions such as pneumonia, bronchitis, and sinus and ear infections. The flu can also make your chronic health problems, such as asthma, diabetes and heart issues, even worse. Most importantly, the flu can even kill in some cases.

It's not a game.

Influenza definitely impacts the African-American community. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in 2009, 35 percent of people hospitalized with the the flu in 13 metropolitan areas of 10 states were Black. Also, almost one-third of people hospitalized with complications from the flu had asthma. And asthma-related hospitalization and deaths in general, not just from the flu, are approximately two to three times higher among African-Americans. In addition, 10 percent of people hospitalized with complications from influenza were diabetic — and it’s no secret that the African-American community has alarmingly high diabetes rates.

This is why health experts recommend that people 65 years and older, people of any age with certain chronic medical conditions (such as asthma, diabetes or heart disease), pregnant women, young children and those with compromised immune systems (such as people living with HIV/AIDS) receive a flu shot. But sadly, not enough of us are getting vaccinated.


According to the Office of Minority Health, African-Americans aged 65 and older were 30 percent less likely to have received a flu shot in the past 12 months than their white counterparts. When it comes to black children and adults, we are also less likely to get vaccinated as well.

And I get the reasons why.

Some people are afraid that the shot will cause them to have the flu based on it happening to someone they know. Or, people don't trust the medical community and believe that the vaccines are not what they say. Or some people cannot afford a shot and may not have health insurance. But here’s some real talk: Getting a flu shot doesn't just protect you — it protects the loved ones around you who may be more susceptible to the flu as well.

Learn more about how you can prevent and protect yourself from the flu here.

Learn about how to receive affordable or free influenza vaccines here.

(Photo: Tim Boyle/Getty Images)

Written by Kellee Terrell


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