Hello fall and hello flu season. It’s that time of year when cold weather and increased risk of spreading germs mean that people need to take precautions to take care of themselves and others.
If you are around someone who is elderly, experts strongly advise getting a flu shot. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates “between about 70 to 85 percent of the seasonal flu-related deaths in the United States have occurred among people 65 years and older.” Plus, people age 65 and older account for between 50 to 70 percent of seasonal flu-related hospitalizations.
There is no single reason for this population to be adversely affected by flu, but it’s a combination of weaker immune systems in people over age 65 and certain chronic conditions that make people more susceptible to contracting influenza.
What Is the Flu?
Influenza (flu) is a highly contagious viral disease that is spread from person-to-person by coughing or sneezing. Symptoms typically include sudden onset of fever, chills, muscle aches, headaches, fatigue, as well as runny nose, cough, and sore throat. With limited ways to prevent the spread of the disease, caregivers and other health care workers who are working with at-risk populations have a responsibility to get immunized, health care professionals say.
The elderly are just one of the high-risk groups for getting the flu; others include people living with cancer, diabetes, heart disease, HIV/AIDS, asthma, as well as pregnant women and young children.
Since 1981 the CDC has recommended flu shots for health care workers. The reasoning is that when a caregiver gets immunized, they not only decrease their risk of getting the flu but also reduce the spread of the disease in their community.
It’s No Fairy Tale
There are some myths, experts caution, about getting flu shots that scare people away from taking this annual precaution. Many people believe they can get the flu from the flu shot. The reality, according to medical professionals, is that the viruses in the vaccines have been deactivated and tested.
It is recommended that everyone get a flu shot each year, in part because the viruses change and the vaccines get updated. It takes about two weeks for immunity to set in after being vaccinated, so it’s best if people get vaccinated before there is a local flu outbreak. People who are 65 years and older have two options in flu vaccines: a regular dose or a higher dose. Side effects from a flu shot include a sore, achy arm or a stuffy nose and sore throat for those who take the nasal spray vaccine. These symptoms should only last 1-2 days and are not the flu. Regardless, experts say that the minor pain of a shot or side effects are nothing compared to the serious impact of coming down with the flu.
For those who do get the flu, it is highly recommended that they do not go to work—especially if they work with at-risk populations—and get antiviral drugs from a healthcare provider.