3 Health Organizations Issue Joint Alert on Dangers of Influenza

TUESDAY, OCTOBER 15 – For the first time, the American Lung Association, the American Diabetes Association (ADA), and the American Heart Association (AHA) have come together to raise an important alert about the dangers of influenza (flu) for people with chronic health conditions, including diabetes, heart disease and lung diseases such as asthma and COPD.

With this year’s flu season just beginning, together three of the nation’s leading, non-profit health organizations are urging the 117 million adults living with chronic disease[1] to prioritize annual flu vaccination and calling on health care professionals to advocate for and support flu immunization within their practices.

In the wake of several flu seasons that had a particularly deadly impact on older adults, national public health officials have stepped up efforts to educate Americans on the impact of flu on chronic health conditions. During the 2018-2019 season, 93% of adults hospitalized for flu, reported at least one underlying medical condition that placed them at high-risk for complications.[2] Older patients may also face catastrophic disability and loss of independence due to the flu, crippling their ability to be active and permanently impacting their quality of life.[3] Annual flu vaccination has been shown to mitigate these risks in patients with chronic health conditions—reducing the chance of hospitalization by 37% and reducing the risk of admission to the intensive care unit by 82%.[4]

“Getting the flu can lead to complications with very serious consequences for people with cardiovascular disease, including hospitalization, increased risk for other major health events like heart attacks or strokes, and death,” said Eduardo Sanchez, M.D., American Heart Association Chief Medical Officer for Prevention. “Flu vaccination is a good idea for all and has actually been associated with lower rates of some cardiac events.”

The flu vaccine is a protective tool against influenza and it is an essential health management step for people living with diabetes, heart disease and lung disease.

“People with diabetes experience more hyperglycemic events, and substantial increases in pneumonia, sepsis and coronary heart disease after being diagnosed with the flu,” said Louis H. Philipson, M.D., Ph.D., FACP, American Diabetes Association Vice President of Medicine & Science. “Additionally, if an individual does get the flu, being vaccinated may help make their symptoms milder and avoid more serious consequences.”

Yet, only 45% of adults were vaccinated in the 2018-2019 season.[5] Urgent action is needed to increase immunization rates and protect those at increased risk from serious health complications caused by the flu.

To that end, people living with lung or heart disease or diabetes should be immunized against the flu annually as part of their regular health care management. Just as medication, blood pressure monitoring for hypertension, blood glucose monitoring for diabetes and the use of inhalers for lung disease are key to maintain healthy lives, flu vaccination should be viewed as a routine component to prevent illness and keep chronic conditions in check.

In addition, health care providers can be crucial agents for change that can help save lives by strongly advocating for and supporting immunization in their practices. As one of the most trusted sources of medical information, a health care provider’s word is paramount to increasing vaccination rates. Therefore, we urge providers to help patients understand their risks and to issue strong recommendations for an annual flu vaccine to reduce the serious consequences of the flu, especially among people with existing chronic health conditions.

Make no mistake, complications from influenza can be lethal. The flu vaccine can reduce these risks significantly. By championing vaccination, we are working together to save lives and preserve quality of life and independence for the millions of Americans with chronic diseases.

“We are proud of our collaboration with the American Diabetes Association and American Heart Association raising awareness around the importance of flu vaccination, especially for those with chronic conditions and more vulnerable to the impacts of the flu,” said Albert A. Rizzo, M.D., FACP, American Lung Association Chief Medical Officer. “Americans oftentimes live with one or more of these chronic medical conditions that span across our three organizations and working together we can encourage flu vaccinations and save lives.”

The American Lung Association, the American Diabetes Association and the American Heart Association offer educational resources about the burden of flu and increased need for vaccination among people with chronic health conditions. And throughout the flu season, the Lung Association, AHA and ADA will be sharing the personal stories of individuals affected by the flu, resources on how to find the closest flu vaccine provider and debunk myths surrounding the flu.

Free, downloadable information on flu and chronic health conditions is also available through the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.