Getting the flu can be an unpleasant event for even the most stoic among us, but, for a person with a disability, it could become a serious threat.

While not all people with disabilities are at higher risk for the flu or having unrecognized symptoms, there are groups that are more susceptible. These include individuals with limited mobility, those unable to communicate symptoms, those unable to limit contact with others, and those who have trouble understanding or practicing preventative measures.

“As a facility who cares for people with disabilities, I can’t stress enough the importance of getting a flu shot if you live with a disability or if you care for someone with a disability,” says Dr. Nicholas Nilest PT, DPT, CEO of Corpus Christi Rehabilitation Hospital. “When you’re in a high-risk group, you especially want to try to prevent catching the flu, and a flu shot offers the best chance of this.”

“Prevention can go a long way in helping everyone stay healthy this flu season” -Nicholas Nilest, CEO of Corpus Christi Rehabilitation Hospital

Nilest says individuals with physical or cognitive disabilities may be at a disadvantage when it comes to the flu. People with physical disabilities or with conditions that affect their immune systems, like chronic or respiratory diseases, may have a higher risk of getting flu-related complications, like pneumonia. This may cause them to suffer the flu symptoms more severely, and they could even require hospitalization. Individuals with cognitive impairments also may be affected more by the flu if they have conditions that limit their ability to process information or make decisions.

“A cognitive impairment may affect a person’s ability to follow through on preventative measures like hand-washing,” Nilest says. “It also can limit an individual’s ability to self-monitor symptoms or to avoid contact with people who are already sick.”

Symptoms of the flu can include a fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, headache, body aches, chills and fatigue. “The flu has symptoms similar to the common cold,” Nilest says. “The way to tell the difference is to get a flu test from your physician within the first few days of your symptoms.”

“When you’re in a high-risk group, you especially want to try to prevent catching the flu, and a flu shot offers the best chance of this” -Nicholas Nilest, CEO of Corpus Christi Rehabilitation Hospital

The flu spreads from person-to-person, often through coughing or sneezing. For individuals with or without disabilities, Nilest says the precautions to avoid the flu remain the same:

  • Get a flu shot as soon as it becomes available in your area.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are already sick.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
  • Practice good health habits, such as getting plenty of sleep and exercise, managing your stress, and drinking plenty of fluids.

“If you suspect you have the flu, see your physician immediately, and try to stay away from others as much as possible, especially if you are a caregiver of a person with a disability,” says Nilest. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that an individual stay home for at least 24 hours following a fever.

Nilest says if you are caring for someone with a disability who has the flu, to keep the person comfortable and follow the recommendations of their physician. “You also can help keep others healthy in the home by putting the sick person in a separate area, washing hands and household surfaces frequently, and providing good ventilation in the home,” he adds. “Prevention can go a long way in helping everyone stay healthy this flu season.”


Corpus Christi Rehab Hospital is a 35-bed, free-standing facility providing intensive physical rehabilitation services to patients recovering from strokes, brain and spinal cord injuries, and other impairments as a result of injury or illness.

For more information visit or call 361.906.3700. Corpus Christi Rehabilitation Hospital is located at 5726 Esplanade Drive in Corpus Christi, TX 78414.