New Call to Action Issued on the Dangers of Influenza Among Adults with Chronic Health Conditions

November 29, 2018

The National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) issued an urgent Call to Action about the dangers of influenza infection among adults with chronic health conditions including heart disease, lung disease and diabetes, and stressed the need for improved adult flu vaccination rates. Additionally, a new national survey conducted by NFID found that most U.S. adults are not aware that individuals with chronic health conditions face a higher risk of flu-related complications, including an increased risk of heart attack or stroke.
 
“Flu can result in serious complications for individuals living with chronic health conditions, even when these conditions are well-controlled,” said NFID Medical Director William Schaffner, MD. “It is imperative that healthcare professionals inform patients with chronic health conditions of their increased risk and insist on an annual flu vaccination to help protect them from complications including hospitalization, catastrophic disability and even death.”
 
Estimates indicate that 31 percent of U.S. adults age 50-64 years, and 47 percent of those age 65 years and older are at high risk for flu-related complications due to certain chronic health conditions. The prevalence of many chronic health conditions increases with age and will likely rise as the U.S. population ages.
 
During the 2017-2018 U.S. flu season, nearly 80,000 people died and more than 950,000 people were hospitalized due to flu and flu-related complications. Beyond those devastating numbers, flu infection puts individuals with chronic health conditions at increased risk for serious long-term complications. Those at risk include people with diabetes, heart disease, and lung disease such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
 
Among those hospitalized for flu during the 2017-2018 flu season, 92 percent had a least one reported underlying medical condition that placed them at high risk for flu-related complications, the most frequent of which included:
-Cardiovascular disease (46 percent)
-Metabolic disorders such as diabetes (43 percent)
-Obesity (37 percent)
-Chronic lung disease (30 percent)
 
The NFID Call to Action was developed from a Roundtable meeting held in Washington, DC in July 2018. This meeting convened leading medical experts and representatives from nearly 20 national healthcare organizations that support the need for improved adult flu vaccination rates in the U.S. The Call to Action provided recommended strategies to improve outcomes for vulnerable populations. Additional complementary resources for healthcare professionals and patients can be found at www.nfid.org/flu-chronic-health-conditions, including a webinar, infographics, fact sheets and a CME journal article.
 
The Call to Action states a direct connection between flu and exacerbation of chronic health conditions.
 
“The impact of flu-induced inflammation is underappreciated among healthcare professionals and patients,” said Allen J. Taylor, MD, Chair of Cardiology, MedStar Heart and Vascular Institute, who attended the NFID Roundtable on behalf of the American College of Cardiology. “Many individuals with heart disease are unaware that their risk of a heart attack increases by 10 times in the days and weeks after an acute flu infection, and that the flu shot reduces heart attack risk.”
 
New Survey Also Shows Consumers Vastly Unaware of Flu Complications
 
NFID recently conducted a consumer survey to better understand public awareness of the connection between chronic health conditions and serious complication of flu that revealed:
 
-Less than a quarter of U.S. adults understand that people with heart disease (24 percent) and diabetes (22 percent) are at greater risk for flu-related complications and awareness is significantly less for people of color than white respondents.
-Less than 20 percent of U.S. adults are aware that heart attack (16 percent), worsening of diabetes (16 percent), stroke (13 percent) and disability (10 percent) can result in potential complications of flu.
 
“In the U.S., more than 30 million adults are currently living with diabetes, which puts them at a six times greater risk of flu-related hospitalization,” said Melissa D. Young, PharmD, CDE, BC-ADM, University of Utah Medical School of Medicine, who represented the American Association of Diabetes Educators at the NFID Roundtable. “Yet the data shows that people simply are not aware. It’s our job to education patients and insist on annual flu vaccination as part of routine management of their condition.”
 
Sanofi Pasteur, the vaccines division of Sanofi, provided funding and other support for this activity. NFID policies restrict funders from controlling program content.
 
Supporting Organizations: The following organizations support the goals of the Call to Action to increase awareness of the dangers of flu infection among adults with chronic health conditions and the benefits of annual vaccination, and to ultimately improve public health and patient outcomes:
-Alliance for Aging Research
-American Academy of Family Physicians
-American Association of Diabetes Educators
-American College of Cardiology
-American College of Emergency Physicians
-American College of Physicians
-American Lung Association
-American Medical Group Association
-American Nurses Association
-American Osteopathic Association
-American Pharmacists Association
-Caregiver Action Network
-Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
-Immunization Action Coalition
-National Adult and Influenza Immunization Summit
-National Association of Chain Drug Stores
-National Foundation for Infectious Diseases
-The Gerontological Society of America
 
Source: National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID)