Seniors Need to be Especially Sure to Get the Flu Shot

February 20, 2018 Victoria Leigh, DO

seniors-need-to-get-flu-shot

Seniors who catch the flu are prone to serious complications. Flu vaccines are safe and effective.

New reports suggest that people suffering from the flu are at a heightened risk of heart attack. A compromised immune system increases inflammation throughout the body and decreases blood pressure. This combination can put a lot of stress on the body and is especially dangerous for those over 65 years of age. In fact, 71-85 percent of seasonal flu-related deaths are associated with seniors in this age group.

“This flu season is particularly intense and risky,” says Victoria Leigh, DO, a board-certified internal medicine physician at St. Joseph Heritage Medical Group. “H3N2 is one of the most severe flu strains out there, and it has swept across the country in a matter of weeks. As a result, we’re seeing a substantial uptick in flu-related hospitalizations and, unfortunately, deaths among seniors and children. Everyone should get a flu shot, and get it annually. Not only does it help prevent influenza in yourself, it creates community immunity for those around you who are medically unable to be get the shot.”

Seniors suffering from flu are prone to serious complications

One of the inconvenient realities of aging is a weakened immune system. This means that seniors suffering from the flu are more vulnerable and less able to defend against illnesses like pneumonia, meningitis or bloodstream infections, which can make matters far worse.

Here’s why it is critical for seniors to get their annual flu shot

As people age, it is common to have pre-existing medical conditions like diabetes, renal insufficiency or arthritis. Combine a pre-existing medical condition with a weakened immune system, and you have the perfect setting for the flu to take hold.

Flu vaccines are a safe and effective way to help protect seniors against serious and possibly life-threatening infections from the influenza virus and secondary infections of bacteria. Weakened immune systems can’t fight off infection on their own, so it’s especially important for seniors to protect themselves. The flu vaccine helps reduce illness and prevent flu-related hospitalizations by helping the body build infection-fighting antibodies. It also helps protect the people around you, particularly those who are too young or too sick to get the vaccine.

Flu prevention tips

A little prevention goes a long way; stay healthy this season with these flu prevention tips:

  • Get a flu vaccine
  • Strongly encourage your family and caregivers to get a flu vaccine
  • Wash hands frequently with soap and warm water
  • Isolate toothbrushes to avoid germ contamination
  • Wash bedding, especially pillowcases, in hot water every few days
  • Wash towels in hot water every two days
  • Wipe door handles, light switches, faucets, soap dispensers, telephones and remotes with an antibacterial cloth daily
  • Cover your mouth when you cough
  • Cover your nose when you sneeze
  • Stay home if you feel sick with flu symptoms, and avoid contact with co-workers who are sick or not feeling well

What to do at the first sign of the flu

The CDC recommends a high-dose antiviral treatment, like Tamiflu, for seniors as soon as flu symptoms develop because of the risk of serious complications. If your over the age of 65 and have any of the following signs or symptoms, we recommend seeing a doctor as soon as possible:

  • Fever along with: cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose
  • Body aches and headaches
  • Chills
  • Abnormal fatigue
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

“If you’re over 65 and get the flu, seek a medical evaluation or antiviral medications as soon as possible, but certainly within the first 48 hours of developing symptoms,” says Dr. Leigh. “This is particularly important for anyone with pre-existing medical conditions that affect the heart, lungs, blood, kidneys or liver. It may save your life.”

It’s not too late to protect yourself with a flu vaccine—and it’s free with most Medicaid plans. (Contact your health plan for details.)

Find a clinic or urgent care near you and ask to get your flu shot today.

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.

 

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