Influenza (the flu) is a serious illness, especially for older adults.
FACT: The elderly are at high risk of serious flu-related complications.
People’s immune systems become weaker with age placing people 65 years and older at high risk of serious, flu-related complications. While flu seasons can vary in severity, during most seasons, people 65 years and older bear the greatest burden of severe flu disease. It’s estimated that between about 70 percent and 85 percent of seasonal flu-related deaths in the United States have occurred among people 65 years and older. For seasonal flu-related hospitalizations, people 65 and older account for between about 50 percent and 70 percent of the estimated total.
An annual flu shot is the best protection against the flu.
FACT: While flu vaccine can vary in how well it works, vaccination is the first and most important step in protecting against the flu.
Annual flu vaccination is recommended for all people 6 months and older. Vaccination is especially important for people 65 years and older because of their high risk status.
Studies have shown that flu vaccination can prevent flu illness and flu hospitalization. Also, vaccination can make your illness milder if you do get sick.
People 65 years and older can get any flu shot that is approved for use in that age group. There also are two vaccine options available for the elderly that are designed specifically for them, to promote a stronger immune response. That includes some traditional, regular-dose flu shots, recombinant flu shots and two other flu shots designed specifically for people 65 and older.
Denise Curran, RN BSN, Vice President of Home Health Operations at Freudenthal Home Health, stresses the importance of the flu vaccine for the elderly. “For the elderly it is very important that they vaccinate for influenza due to their limited immune system, especially those seniors that are living in communal care settings such as Assisted Living and Longterm Care Facilities.” She goes on to say, “For those that choose not to vaccinate, they increase the risk of exposure to other individuals within the community that have chosen to not vaccinate as well, or for those that cannot, due to medical issues, or infants that are not yet able to be vaccinated. Influenza can be deadly and results in approximately 30k deaths each year, and yet it is preventable with a simple vaccination.”
Long-term medical conditions also can put you at high risk for serious flu complications.
FACT: The flu can make long-term health problems worse, even if they are well managed.
Diabetes, asthma, and chronic heart disease (even if well managed) are among the most common long-term medical conditions that place people at high risk of serious flu complications. It is particularly important that all adults with these or other chronic medical conditions receive a flu vaccine every year.
FACT: There are prescription drugs that can treat influenza virus infections. People 65 and older should be treated with influenza antiviral drugs if they get the flu.
If you have flu symptoms–even if you have already had a flu shot–call your doctor, nurse, or clinic. Doctors can prescribe medicine, called antiviral drugs, to treat the flu and lessen the chance of serious illness. These medicines work better the sooner they are started. If you have any or all of the following symptoms, you might have the flu and should call your health care provider and tell them about your symptoms:
- Fever or feeling feverish/chills
- Sore Throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle or body aches
- Fatigue (tiredness)
- Sometimes diarrhea and vomiting
It’s very important that antiviral drugs be used early to treat flu in people who are very sick with flu (for example, people who are in the hospital), and people who are sick with flu and are at high risk of serious flu complications, like people 65 and older.