Peak flu season will begin in a few weeks and last until February. It has long been known that due to weakened immune systems, those aged 65 and over are at greater risk of suffering serious complications from the disease (accounting for around 90% of related deaths and 50-60% of hospitalizations).
The most important step in protecting against the disease is having the current years flu vaccination. This needs to be done every flu season, regardless of whether you had one the year before (even if the vaccine has stayed the same) because antibody levels drop quicker in older adults. Medicare will cover this every year.
There are two options for vaccination, regular dose and high dose. The latter should provide a stronger immune response and is designed specifically for those aged over 65. Talk to your health care provider about the pneumococcal vaccine also, as seniors are more at risk of developing pneumonia, a complication of the flu.
It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body and provide protection against the flu, so if you or a loved one haven’t already been vaccinated, it is important to do so as soon as possible.
To find your nearest place to get vaccinated, enter your zipcode here: http://flushot.healthmap.org/
Other steps you can take to minimize your risk of catching or spreading the flu:
1) Wash your hands regularly with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub
2) Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth, particularly if you haven’t been able to wash your hand recently. This is how germs spread.
3) Avoid close contact with anyone who is sick.
4) Drink plenty of fluids, eat well, sleep and exercise.
5) Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when sneezing, throw the tissue away immediately after use and wash your hands.
6) If you do get sick, stay at home for a further 24 hours after any fever has subsided.
Finally, if you feel unwell and have developed flu like symptoms, please seek medical advice quickly. Your health provider will be able to let you know whether to seek medical evaluation or treatment with antiviral drugs, these need to be administered as early as possible when an individual is sick.
Flu symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some people may also have vomiting and diarrhea. People may be infected with the flu and have respiratory symptoms without a fever.
More information on Flu Season 2014-2015 from the CDC: www.cdc.gov/flu/about/season/flu-season-2014-2015.htm
Caring for seniors with the flu: www.care.com/senior-care-caring-for-seniors-with-pneumonia-and-the-flu-p1143-q317308.html
Vaccination myths and facts: www.healthlinkbc.ca/healthfiles/hfile12c.stm