Getting a flu shot each flu season is a good idea for everyone, but it is even more important for seniors over the age of 60. Increased vulnerability to the virus and increased risk of complications make it imperative that seniors take every precaution to avoid getting the flu in the first place and a flu vaccination is the best form of prevention.
Why the Flu is More Dangerous to Seniors
Many seniors have immune systems which are weaker than they were at a younger age. Where a person in their 30s, 40s and 50s may be able to successfully conquer the flu virus with their normal immunity, seniors are far more likely to contract the virus.
If the person is in a senior care facility such as a nursing home or assisted living facility, they become even more vulnerable due to constant close contact with other seniors who are also at high risk for contracting the flu.
Effects of the Flu on Seniors
A diminished immune system not only makes seniors more vulnerable to getting the flu in the first place, it also makes them more likely to develop complications and secondary infections. Primary viral pneumonia or a secondary bacterial pneumonia are especially worrying as most hospitalizations and deaths related to the flu are related to contraction of these secondary respiratory infections.
Additionally, seniors who live at home may develop the flu without anyone outside the home knowing. This is why it is crucial for a home support worker to pay attention to any possible symptoms.
How Seniors Can Avoid the Flu
A few simple precautions can help seniors to avoid getting the flu in the first place.
1) First and foremost is to get a flu vaccination each and every year. Flu stains mutate and differ from year to year so last year’s flu vaccine will not protect from this year’s strain of the flu. In addition, even though the vaccine is not 100% effective, it is still considered to be 70-90% effective, which means the majority of people who receive the vaccine will be protected.
2) Avoid contact with those who are visibly sick and, if possible, with those who may have been exposed to the flu virus.
3) Wash or sanitize hands frequently, especially after contact with doorknobs, counters and stair rails in public places.
What To Do If You Get the Flu
If you unfortunately end up with the flu, don’t panic. Currently the best cure for the flu is rest and plenty of fluids for the duration of the illness. Typically, the flu will last 5-7 days for healthy adults, but can last up to 10 days in seniors.
Most of the flu symptoms can be treated with over the counter medication, but make sure they are compatible with any medication the senior might be on for other health issues. In some cases, a doctor may prescribe either Tamiflu or Relenza, both of which help to shorten the duration of the illness and must be administered within 48 hours of flu symptoms presenting themselves.
Best Time for Seniors to Get a Flu Shot
The flu season generally lasts from October through February, although in some years it can stretch out to as late as April. It is best to get a flu shot as close to the beginning of flu season as possible, but not too soon or the protection could wear off before the end of the flu season when you could end up getting sick anyway. If you had a flu shot last year, you still need one this year. Even if you feel healthy now, you need the protection the flu shot will give you throughout flu season.
For More Information
To learn more about the flu, including where you can get your flu shot, visit FightFlu.ca, a comprehensive online resource.