While many people recover from influenza without any long-lasting effects, the flu can be more serious. Every year, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tracks pneumonia through flu season because about one-third of all pneumonia cases in this country are caused by respiratory viruses, most commonly the flu.

Pneumonia is an infection in one or both lungs and affects millions of Americans each year. It can be mild and responds well to treatment, but it can also be life-threatening. Air sacs in the lungs can fill up with fluid and pus, making it hard to breathe. Symptoms can include a cough, fever, fatigue and nausea.

People with chronic conditions such as diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and heart failure raise the risk of developing pneumonia. However, this can also happen in healthy people.

Among healthy younger adults, from teenagers to middle aged people, bacterial pneumonia and sepsis (a bacterial blood infection) are by far the biggest cause of hospitalization and death, according to Dr. Ralph Tripp, a flu researcher at the University of Georgia.

So how can I protect myself?

If you get the flu, taking antiviral medications (such as Tamiflu) within 48 hours of coming down with the flu can help to limit the severity of the flu and help to prevent secondary infections like pneumonia. If your symptoms worsen a week after they first appear, see your doctor. This is generally the time that pneumonia can set in.

But the best way to protect yourself is to get a flu shot. For some people at high risk, getting the vaccine for pneumonia can also be helpful as it can cover many different strains of bacteria that cause the flu.

Don’t delay! Help protect yourself and your family by asking your pharmacist about getting your flu and/or pneumonia shot today.

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