The flu can worsen chronic health problems. People with emphysema, chronic bronchitis or asthma may experience shortness of breath while they have the flu, and influenza may cause worsening of coronary heart disease or congestive heart failure. Smoking is another risk factor associated with more serious disease and increased mortality from influenza.
According to the World Health Organization: "Every winter, tens of millions of people get the flu. Most are only ill and out of work for a week, yet the elderly are at a higher risk of death from the illness. We know the worldwide death toll exceeds a few hundred thousand people a year, but even in developed countries the numbers are uncertain, because medical authorities don't usually verify who actually died of influenza and who died of a flu-like illness." Even healthy people can be affected, and serious problems from influenza can happen at any age. People over 50 years old, very young children and people of any age with chronic medical conditions are more likely to get complications from influenza, such as pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus, and ear infections.
In some cases, an autoimmune response to an influenza infection may contribute to the development of Guillain-Barré syndrome. However, as many other infections can increase the risk of this disease, influenza may only be an important cause during epidemics. This syndrome can also be a rare side effect of influenza vaccines, with an incidence of about one case per million vaccinations.