The Top 3 Things Seniors Need to Know about Avoiding Flu

Did you know that people 65 years and older are at greater risk of serious complications from the flu compared with young, healthy adults? This is because 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.

In recent years, Centers for Diseases Controls (CDC) estimated that between 80 and 90 percent of seasonal flu-related deaths have occurred in people 65 years and older and between 50 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.

What do seniors need to know this flu season?

  • 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. 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.

A flu vaccine protects against the flu viruses that research indicates will be most common during the upcoming season. The 2015-2016 vaccine has been updated from last season’s vaccine to better match circulating viruses. Immunity from vaccination sets in after about two weeks. “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 Heidi Parker, executive director of Immunize Nevada. “When our community is protected against the flu, everybody wins. And it’s absolutely not too late, as flu season typically peaks in January and February.”

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.

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.

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