Seniors at Higher Risk of Complications from Flu

People 65 years and older are at greater risk of serious complications from the flu, as immune defenses become weaker with age. While flu seasons can vary in severity, during most seasons, people 65 years and older bear the greatest burden of severe flu disease.

The CDC shares: in recent years, it’s estimated that between 71 percent and 85 percent of seasonal flu-related deaths have occurred in people 65 years and older and between 54 percent, and 70 percent of seasonal flu-related hospitalizations have occurred among people in that age group.

The flu causes inflammation in the body. This is especially dangerous for seniors, because it can worsen any underlying health conditions. Think about a senior who has clogged arteries, and then his or her body becomes inflamed because of the flu – this is a deadly combination. The same goes for people who are at risk for stroke, have lung disease or diabetes – the flu can figuratively be the straw that breaks the camel’s back by adding inflammation to the symptoms of these chronic health diseases.

The CDC shares what seniors need to do to protect themselves:

  • Get Your Flu Shot, but consider High Dose if it is Available. The best way to prevent the flu is with a flu vaccine. CDC recommends that everyone 6 months of age and older get a seasonal flu vaccine each year soon after it becomes available, and by the end of October if possible. Flu vaccines are often updated to keep up with changing viruses and also immunity wanes over a year, so annual vaccination is needed to ensure the best possible protection against influenza.

The 2016-2017 vaccine has been updated from last season’s vaccine to better match circulating viruses. Immunity from vaccination sets in after about two weeks. A CDC study published in August 2016 found that people 50 and older who had gotten a flu vaccine reduced their risk of flu-related hospitalization by half.

“The flu vaccine can literally save your life or the life of someone you love. Getting vaccinated not only protects you, but also those in our community who are vulnerable — like children and seniors,” said Immunize Nevada Executive Director Heidi Parker. “When our community is protected against the flu, everybody wins.”

The “high dose vaccine” contains four times the amount of antigen as the regular flu shot and is associated with a stronger immune response following vaccination (higher antibody production). Aging decreases the body’s ability to have a good immune response after getting influenza vaccine. A higher dose of antigen in the vaccine is intended to give older people a better immune response, and therefore, better protection against flu. For more information on the high dose vaccine, visit http://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/vaccine/qa_fluzone.htm.

  • Practice good health habits including covering coughs with the inside of the elbow (not the hand), washing hands often, and avoiding people who are sick.
  • Seek medical advice quickly if you develop flu symptoms to see whether you might need further medical evaluation or treatment with antiviral drugs. It’s very important that antiviral drugs be used early to treat flu in people who are very sick and people who have a greater chance of getting serious flu complications, like people 65 and older. According to the CDC: When used for treatment, antiviral drugs can lessen symptoms and shorten the time you are sick by one or two days. They also can prevent serious flu complications, like pneumonia. For people with a high risk medical condition, treatment with an antiviral drug can mean the difference between having milder illness instead of very serious illness that could result in a hospital stay.

Flu symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some people may also have vomiting and diarrhea. People may be infected with the flu and have respiratory symptoms without a fever.

Cindi Powell can no longer get the flu vaccine because of an allergy. She does, however, get the pneumococcal vaccine and others recommended by her doctor. Though she is young, active and vibrant at 72, she knows how dangerous the flu can be, so she takes numerous precautions, including following healthy practices, staying away from sick people and asking those around her to get their flu vaccines. “I’m very protective of my own health, but also the health of my friends and loved ones,” she says. “I get the vaccines I can to protect myself and them, and it’s great that they do the same for me.”

For details about flu vaccine, statistics, logic, flu prevention strategies and vaccination clinics, follow Immunize Nevada on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and Pinterest. Or visit www.influencenevada.org for more information.

Immunize Nevada is widely recognized as Nevada’s trusted resource for immunizations and community health for all ages by fostering education and statewide collaboration. Immunize Nevada’s vision is healthy communities across Nevada protected from vaccine-preventable disease. For more information, visit ImmunizeNevada.org.

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