Health & Wellness, Home Life October 24, 2019

The Flu and Seniors

Zena L., Editor

Flu season is fast approaching. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) define flu season as occurring (generally) between October and May with peak activity between December and February. The flu and seniors is an important thing to consider, whether you are a senior needing to protect yourself, a family member looking after an ageing parent, or a concerned member of the community.

Why Is the Flu and Seniors a Concern?

Seniors, or more specifically, people who are 65 years old and older, have a higher risk of experiencing serious complications from the flu compared to younger, healthy adults. This is because as we age, our immune systems become weaker.

In recent years, 70%-90% of seasonal flu-related deaths have occurred in those who are 65 years old and older, and 50%-70% of seasonal flu-related hospitalizations have occurred among people in that age group.

Cold or Flu?

A cold is a virus that causes an infection in your throat and nose. Influenza (flu) is also a virus but it attacks your respiratory system. Since some cold and flu symptoms overlap, it can sometimes be challenging to tell the difference, but here’s a start:

 Cold symptoms come on gradually:

  • Sneezing
  • Stuffy nose
  • Sore throat

 Flu symptoms start abruptly:

  • Fever
  • Aches
  • Chills
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Chest discomfort
  • Cough
  • Headache

If you get the flu, call your doctor right away. There are antiviral drugs that he/she can give you to help treat it and prevent serious complications. Antiviral drugs work best when started within 48 hours after symptoms start, so call your doctor as soon as possible.

What Are Serious Complications of the Flu?

Some flu complications are serious and can be life threatening, especially to those 65 years old and older. They may include the following:

  • Dehydration
  • Pneumonia
  • Worsening of long-term medical conditions like diabetes or asthma
  • Inflammation of the heart (myocarditis) or brain (encephalitis)
  • Multi-organ failure

The Flu, Seniors and the ER

If you or a loved one experience the following emergency flu symptoms, go to the hospital right away:

  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • Chest or abdominal pain
  • Sudden, persistent dizziness
  • Severe or ongoing vomiting
  • Fever or cough that improves but then comes back or gets worse
  • Severe weakness and loss of balance

For more on emergency flu symptoms in people ages 65 and older, visit the CDC website.

Is the Flu Preventable?

The following are steps you can take to help minimize your risk of getting the flu:

  • Wash your hands regularly.
  • Avoid touching your face with your hands.
  • Eat healthy foods and stay physically active to keep your immune system strong.
  • If you can, avoid being around people who are sick.
  • If you share a home or office with someone who has or may have the flu, regularly disinfect common areas and objects such as doorknobs, light switches, remote controls and keyboards.
  • Most importantly, get vaccinated against the seasonal flu!

Where Can I Get Vaccinated?

Flu vaccines are offered in many locations, including doctor’s offices, clinics, health departments and pharmacies.  To find out where to get a flu vaccine in your area, use the HealthMap Vaccine Finder. Help protect yourself, your family and your community against the flu this season!

To help support health and wellness initiatives in your community, explore the QuickSeries® library of health & wellness guides, including Preparing for Influenza.

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