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Influenza and pneumonia


Influenza (the flu) is an infection mainly affecting the nose, throat, airways, and lungs. It is caused by a virus and usually is spread through coughing or sneezing. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. Some people, such as older adults, young children, and people with certain health conditions, are at high risk for serious complications from flu, including pneumonia.

Pneumonia (noo-MOH-nee-uh) is an inflammation of one or both lungs, usually caused by an infection. If you have pneumonia, the air sacs in your lungs fill with pus and other liquid. This makes it hard to breathe, and oxygen has trouble reaching your blood. If there is too little oxygen in your blood, your body cells can't work properly. Because of this and because the infection can spread through your body, pneumonia can cause death.

The risk of death from pneumonia or influenza is higher for people with heart disease, diabetes, or weakened immune systems such as from AIDS.

Hand washing and good hygiene can prevent the spreading of germs that cause illness. But influenza and pneumonia vaccines offer the best protection:

  • To help protect yourself against the flu, get a flu shot each year. It's best to get the vaccine as soon as it becomes available, usually starting in the early fall.
  • To help protect yourself against pneumonia, you only need a pneumococcal vaccine once. Vaccination is recommended for adults older than 65 and for some younger adults, like people who smoke and people who have asthma or diabetes. Talk to your doctor about whether you need this vaccine.

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More information on Influenza and pneumonia

Explore other publications and websites

  • Fight Flu and Pneumonia - This publication answers common questions about the flu. It discusses who should get a yearly flu shot and when to seek treatment for the flu.
  • Find a Flu Clinic (Copyright © American Lung Association) - To find a flu clinic in your area, enter your zip code into the flu clinic locator. You will get the date, hours of operation, address, and phone number of the clinics offering flu shots near you, as well as a map showing where the clinic is located.
  • Flu (Influenza) - This website provides information on the transmission, symptoms, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of the flu. It also discusses flu vaccines, including recommendations and side effects.
  • FLU.gov - This website discusses current information about several types of flu for individuals, families, and health professionals. It also provides useful information and tools, such as a vaccine finder, to decrease the chances of getting the flu.
  • If You Have Diabetes, a Flu Shot Could Save Your Life - This brochure explains why getting a yearly flu shot is important for people with diabetes. It also provides basic information on the vaccine and where to go to get a flu shot.
  • Pneumonia (Copyright © American Lung Association) - This publication explains what pneumonia is and its causes and treatments. It also tells what to do if you have symptoms of pneumonia.
  • Pneumonia (Copyright © Mayo Foundation) - This publication provides an overview of pneumonia and lists the signs, symptoms, causes, and risk factors. In addition, it discusses how you can prevent it and when you should visit your doctor.
  • Seasonal Influenza (Flu) - This website features up-to-date information on influenza (flu). It provides information on immunization, infection control, clinical description and diagnosis, and treatment.

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Content last updated: January 10, 2011.

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