Editor’s note: This story is part of a Total Health series the Observer- Reporter is producing in conjunction with Southwestern Pennsylvania Area Agency on Aging.

Influenza is a serious disease that can lead to hospitalization and sometimes even death.

Every flu season is different, and influenza infection can affect people differently. Even healthy people can get very sick from the flu and spread it to others.

Over a period of 31 seasons between 1976 and 2007, estimates of flu-associated deaths in the United States range from 3,000 to about 49,000 people. During a regular flu season, about 90% of deaths occur in people 65 years and older.

The “seasonal flu season” in the United States can begin as early as October and last as late as May.

Older people, young children and those with chronic medical conditions are at higher risk for influenza-related complications, which is why there is an annual push to promote flu shots for those who meet the following criteria:

• 50 years-of-age or older, residents of long-term care facilities housing persons with chronic medical conditions;

• People who have a long-term health problem with heart disease, kidney disease, lung disease, metabolic disease such as diabetes, asthma, anemia and other blood disorders;

• Those who have weakened immune systems due to HIV/AIDS or other diseases that affect the immune system, long term treatment with drugs such as steroids, cancer treatment with x rays or drugs;

• People who are 6 months to 18 years-of-age on long-term aspirin treatment who could develop Reye syndrome if they catch influenza;

• A pregnant women past the third month of pregnancy during flu season;

• Physicians, nurses, family members, or anyone else coming in close contact with people at risk of serious influenza.

Talk with your doctor before getting a flu shot if you ever had a serious allergic reaction to eggs or to a previous dose of influenza vaccine, or if you have a history of Guillain Barré syndrome.

After receiving a flu shot, mild problems may occur such as soreness, redness, or swelling where the shot was given, fever and aches. If problems occur, they will usually begin soon after the shot and last up to two days.

Although rare, a vaccine, like any medicine, is capable of causing serious problems, such as severe allergic reactions.

Allergic reactions can occur within a few minutes to a few hours after the shot. Signs of a serious allergic reaction can include difficulty breathing, a hoarse feeling or wheezing, hives, paleness, weakness, a fast heart beat or dizziness.

Anyone exhibiting symptoms of a severe reaction, should call their doctor or call 911.

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