Yes, it does! Flu season typically lasts from October to May in the US, and according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), people over 65 are at the highest risk for serious complications. In fact, almost 90% of the flu-related deaths that have occurred in the past few years have been in the elderly population. While the ideal month to get flu shots for seniors is October, any time during the flu season may be effective in fighting the flu virus.
Even in healthy or younger people, the flu can pack quite a wallop. In people with weaker immune systems, especially infants and seniors, influenza can cause serious complications that go beyond high fevers, chills, and trouble breathing. The flu can trigger secondary illnesses such as:
- Sinus infections
If your loved one has a chronic health condition, including heart disease, COPD, emphysema, diabetes, or other immune compromising diagnosis, he or she may be at a bigger risk for a severe and lengthy illness or possibly death. Seniors who live in a residential facility are at an even greater risk because the flu is so contagious and can affect the entire population. When you get your loved one vaccinated, you are not only protecting them, but also their community from a potential outbreak or epidemic.
The good news is that flu shots for seniors are readily available at doctor’s offices, clinics, pharmacies, and from other medical providers. If your loved one resides in a facility, their community may also host a vaccine clinic onsite for the safety and convenience of their residents.
Since 2009, two flu vaccines aimed at those over 65 have been approved and are in use. One of the vaccines contains a higher dose of the flu antigen to spark a better immune response in the elderly. Since they are at such an increased risk for complications, the higher dose may give them a boost to help fight the flu. The other vaccine approved for seniors is also designed to create a better immune response, but instead of a higher dose of antigens, it contains an additional ingredient known as an adjuvant to produce a similar effect.
Either vaccine is shown to be safe and effective for seniors. Side effects may be a bit more noticeable than with other flu vaccines, and can include pain, redness, or swelling at the injection site, headaches, muscle aches, and fatigue.
One of the best lines of defense against the flu is a good offense. Practicing good health habits can keep your loved one in better condition to fight any illness, including the flu. Encourage your senior to:
- Wash hands frequently and thoroughly, or use a hand sanitizer to kill germs.
- Avoid other people who are sick, and do not expose others when you are sick.
- Cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing.
- Eat a healthy, balanced diet for good nutrition.
- Exercise regularly to stay fit and active.
- Be sure to rest and get enough sleep.
If your loved one does contract the flu, seek medical treatment as soon as you can. Antiviral medications have been shown to lessen the discomfort of the virus if it is diagnosed early. Please visit the CDC website for more information about the importance of flu shots for seniors and other helpful information.
Stay happy, healthy, and flu-free all season long!