Center on Psychiatric Disability and Co-Occurring Medical Conditions

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Transcript for Podcast: Seasonal Flu among People with Mental Illnesses


Hello, my name is Jessica Jonikas and I’m with the UIC National Research and Training Center on Psychiatric Disability. Autumn is certainly one of our loveliest seasons. But with the beautiful colors also comes an increased risk of getting influenza or seasonal flu. Many people confuse having general viral symptoms, like those of common colds, with those characteristic of the flu. Because seasonal flu can be serious and life threatening, it’s important to know how to recognize when you might have the flu and when it’s time to seek treatment.

Symptoms of the flu usually start without warning and with a high fever. Other symptoms could be shivering, sweating, a sore throat, a dry cough, and severe body aches. Doctors say that when you have the flu your whole body aches, but when you have a cold or a less severe virus, often just your head and throat hurt. If you start to have pains in your chest, stomach pains, persistent shaking chills, severe shortness of breath, or your high fever lasts more than 2 days, you should call your doctor or go to the emergency department immediately.

Why are people with mental illnesses at greater risk for contracting seasonal flu? It’s generally known that all people with certain medical conditions are at higher risk for developing more serious flu symptoms, as well as complications as a result of flu. These at-risk medical conditions include metabolic disorder, asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, heart disease, liver disease, and a weakened immune system because of certain medications. Indeed, these very same medical conditions are highly prevalent among those with mental illnesses, putting them at greater risk for contracting the flu. Without proper treatment, the flu can progress into pneumonia or other serious complications.

There are some ways to prevent the flu. Regular and thorough hand-washing and not touching one’s eyes and nose are two simple ways to avoid spreading viruses. You can also strengthen your immune system by drinking a lot of water, eating well-balanced meals, sleeping for 7-8 hours per night, and getting regular exercise. Additionally, the seasonal flu shot can be highly effective at both preventing the flu and in reducing the severity of the symptoms if you get it. It is considered a myth that the flu shot will make you sick. Some people experience discomfort at the site of the shot and may have mild body aches, but the benefits that the vaccine can provide far outweigh these minor discomforts. As with all health questions, people with mental illnesses must always talk to their doctors about their medications - and their allergies - before getting a flu shot. To learn more about influenza and the flu shot, visit and search on influenza or flu.

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