When flu season strikes, it often hits hard and fast. The symptoms can knock a person down, forcing them to spend a week in bed or take a trip to the hospital. Seniors ages 65 and older have a higher risk of severe flu complications, accounting for up to 70 percent of hospitalizations from the virus and up to 85 percent of the deaths each year.
Here are five things you should know about the flu and the flu vaccine this fall.
What are the symptoms?
If you feel like you’ve been hit by a truck, you might have the flu. Influenza is a respiratory virus spread mainly through coughing and sneezing and causes a fever, cough and sore throat. It can also cause severe tiredness and headaches and a general achy feeling.
Who should get the flu vaccine?
Everyone over the age of six months should get the flu vaccine. Senior citizens are among those most at risk of severe illness. Along with the flu vaccine, seniors are advised to get the pneumococcal vaccine, which protects against pneumonia, meningitis and bloodstream infections. Pneumococcal pneumonia is a serious flu-related complication that can cause death.
Does the flu vaccine work, and is it safe?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration monitor the flu vaccine. It is made from a dead virus and cannot give a person the flu. Two vaccines are designed for people ages 65 and older – the “high dose vaccine” and Fluad. Seniors should not receive the nasal spray, intradermal or jet injector flu vaccines.
Life-threatening reactions to the vaccine are rare. It can have mild side effects such as soreness, redness, headaches, muscle aches, fever, and nausea. The two vaccines designed for seniors may result in more of these mild side effects.
Several viruses cause the flu, and the vaccine is intended to match up with the viruses that are circulating each year. Studies show the vaccine reduces the risk of flu illness by 40 to 60 percent when the vaccine is matched well with the viruses circulating that year.
Related link: Flu prevention: 3 smart strategies
When should you get the shot?
Doctors recommend getting the flu shot in early fall. “A senior’s immunity to disease weakens over time, and this increases the risk of contracting flu and pneumonia,” said Jenny Vote, RN, DNS., at Fort Dodge Health & Rehabilitation. “For seniors, this can be life-threatening. That is why it’s important for people aged 65 and older to get a flu vaccine.”
According to Orange County Health Care Agency, cases in Orange County spiked between December 2016 and March 2017 before dropping off. “Since we support the health and wellness of all of the people we see and work with regularly, we encourage our staff to get flu vaccines, as well,” said Vote. Get the vaccine in early fall to protect yourself before the virus makes its way around.
What if I get sick?
It is possible to get the flu even with vaccination, though the risk of severe infection is lower. Seniors should see a doctor quickly if flu symptoms develop. The CDC advises rapid antiviral treatment for seniors because they have a higher chance of serious complications. Treatment is most effective if given within the first two days of illness.
Influenza season is almost here, and a little bit of prevention can go a long way. Along with preventative hygiene measures like hand-washing, a flu vaccine is the best protection against the virus.