Those over 65 are hardest hit by influenza,
so getting a flu shot is crucial.
It’s that time of year again—not the holidays but the flu season. You hear people coughing and sniffling all around you. Perhaps you have been hit with it yourself—staying in bed for days, your whole body aching.
How do you prevent the flu? The best way is to get a flu shot, which not only protects you but also helps prevent those around you from falling prey to this highly contagious disease. Flu protection is especially important for seniors. During recent flu seasons, between 80 and 90 percent of flu-related deaths occurred in people 65 years and older, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). As we age, our immune systems become weaker and are not as able to fight the infection.
Influenza, which causes fever, coughing and muscle aches, can induce serious illness, including pneumonia and bronchitis. In older adults, respiratory disorders can lead to hospitalizations and sometimes death. A risk factor for the seasonal flu is dehydration, which is a serious condition for seniors.
Getting a Flu Shot
Studies have shown that those who are immunized are less likely to become seriously ill from this respiratory illness. One study showed that people 50 years and older who got a flu vaccine reduced their risk of getting hospitalized from influenza by 57 percent. Getting vaccinated can help prevent the flu or at least help lessen the severity and length of your illness.
Cost of Flu Shots
Seniors covered by Medicare Part B do not have to pay coinsurance or deductible fees for their flu shot, as long as they receive the shot from a Medicare provider. For others, most insurers are required to provide flu shots at no cost, according to requirements in the Affordable Care Act. Many insurers would rather pay for the flu shot than for the cost of you being sick.
If you don't have a regular healthcare provider, you can get a flu vaccine at other, sometimes more convenient, places such as a health department, pharmacy or urgent care clinic. Often, schools, college health centers or employers offer free shots to help keep their students or employees healthy.
If you have no insurance, you can get a flu shot at a chain store, such as Costco, which usually has cheaper prices than a doctor’s office. The government’s Vaccine Finder can help you find the store closest to you.
Different influenza strains circulate every year, so scientists determine which viruses will be most common that year. You need to get a flu shot every year because vaccine strains are updated annually and immunity lessens over time. Getting the shot early in the flu season is best, but you can get it anytime. Influenza season runs from October through March, but peaks in January. Time is important, because it takes the body about two weeks after vaccination to develop immunity protection.
Flu vaccines promote antibodies, which provide protection against infection. Traditional flu vaccines are made to protect against three viruses: influenza A (H1N1), influenza A (H3N2) and influenza B. Fortunately, those 65 and over are able to get an especially strong vaccine. Fluzone High-Dose vaccine contains four times the amount of antigen (the part of the vaccine that prompts the body to make antibodies) contained in regular flu shots, which should boost the body’s immune response. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine indicated that the high-dose vaccine was 24.2 percent more effective in preventing flu in adults 65 years of age and older than a standard-dose vaccine.
Symptoms of the Flu
You may have the flu if you have some or all of these symptoms:
- sore throat
- runny or stuffy nose
- body aches
- sometimes diarrhea and vomiting
How to Prevent the Flu
While vaccination is the most important flu prevention, it's only 70 to 90 percent effective, so some who receive the vaccination will still get sick. One of the scary aspects of the flu is that you can get it just by touching a contaminated object such as a door handle or shopping cart, that someone with the flu touched. Besides the flu shot, other actions can keep you and those around you safe:
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are ill, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too.
- Stay home when you are sick to help prevent spreading your illness to others.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing.
- Clean your hands to help protect against germs. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs are often spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches their eyes, nose or mouth.
If you get the flu, make sure to get plenty of sleep and drink a lot of fluids. The CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone. In severe cases, your physician may prescribe Tamiflu or Relenza, which are anti-viral medications that can limit the severity of the influenza infection and shorten symptoms’ duration. However, for these medications to be effective, you must take them within 48 hours of the onset of flu symptoms.
“What you should know and do this flu season if you are 65 years or older,” Council on Aging.
“Flu + You” National Council on Aging.
“Senior Flu Prevention and Taking Care of the Elderly,” May 6, 2015, A Place for Mom.
“What’s New for the Flu in 2016,” Oct. 19, 2016, Next Avenue.
Blog posting provided by Society of Certified Senior Advisors