October is here and that means it’s the start of flu season. In fact, the first case of flu in New Hampshire this season has already been identified, according to WMUR.
While uncomfortable and inconvenient for most of the population, seniors are particularly susceptible to serious complications from the flu. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) up to 85 percent of seasonal flu-related deaths have occurred in people 65 years and older; up to 70 percent of seasonal flu-related hospitalizations have occurred among people in that age group.
What is the flu?
Influenza is a contagious respiratory illness caused by flu viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. There are two main types of flu virus responsible for the seasonal flu epidemic: Types A and B. (Type C causes a mild respiratory illness, and Type D primarily affects cattle).
The seasonal flu vaccine is designed to protect against the three or four influenza viruses most likely to spread and cause illness among people during the upcoming flu season.
What are the symptoms of the flu?
The flu is not a cold. Flu symptoms are usually more severe and come on quickly. With the flu you may have a fever (but not always). If you have the flu, you may experience all, or some, of these symptoms:
- Fever or feeling feverish/chills
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle or body aches
- Fatigue (tiredness)
- Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.
People over 65 are at a higher risk of developing flu-related complications, such as pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus infections and ear infections. Chronic medical conditions like asthma, diabetes or cardiovascular problems can increase the risk. Warning signs of complications from the flu may include shortness of breath, abdominal or chest pain, sudden dizziness, persistent vomiting and confusion.
The best way to prevent the flu is by getting a flu shot. The CDC recommends that anyone over 6 month of age get a flu shot by the end of October. If you don’t get the vaccine by then, you should still get it because the flu season lasts through the spring.
Some 66% of seniors got the flu vaccine last year, leaving 34% unvaccinated.
You should get a flu shot every year for two reasons:
- Flu vaccines are usually updated each season to keep up with changing viruses.
- Immunity wears off over the course of a year, so a yearly vaccination ensures the best protection against the flu.
According to the CDC, there are two vaccines specially formulated for seniors:
- A high-dose vaccine that contains 4 times the amount of antigen as the regular flu shot.
- Fluad, made with and adjuvant (a substance that enhances the body’s immune response to an antigen),which is designed to help create a stronger immune response to vaccination.
The CDC notes that these vaccines may result in more of the mild side effects that can occur with the vaccine, including pain, redness or swelling at the injection site, headache, muscle ache and malaise.
For the 2016-2017 season, the nasal spray flu, the intradermal flu shot, or jet injector flu vaccine are not recommended for seniors.
How effective is the vaccine? A study published in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases (CID) found that the risk of flu-associated hospitalization for those 50 and older who got flu vaccine was reduced by half.
Other ways to lessen the risk
- Covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze
- Wash your hands often – rub your hands with warm soapy water for at least 20 seconds.
- Avoid people who are sick
- Stay home when you’re sick
- If you feel like you’re developing flu symptoms, go to the doctor. Anti-viral drugs need to be administered early to be effective.
- Get a pneumococcal vaccine to help prevent flu-related complications such as pneumonia.
To find flu vaccine clinics in New Hampshire, click here.
* * *
At Courville Communities, we have built our success on being the place for families to turn to when it’s time to consider alternative options for a healthier, safer, and less-isolated living arrangement. For more information, click here.