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Elders and Influenza

Posted Jan 14 2013 8:30am

category_bug_journal2.gif Except as seems useful or interesting now and then, it is not the goal of Time Goes By to keep readers abreast of current health issues. But this year, the flu season arrived early and is more widespread than has been seen in the recent past.

This is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's [CDC] most recent flu map:

CDC Flu Map

So unless you live in California, Mississippi or the District of Columbia, you are at fairly high risk:

”Deaths in the current flu season have officially crossed the line into 'epidemic' territory, federal health officials said Friday, adding that, on the bright side, there were also early signs that the caseloads could be peaking,” reports The New York Times .

The flu can be particularly dangerous – that is, life threatening – to elders because our immune systems do not function as well as they did when we were young and cannot fight the virus as effectively.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is urging old people to get the flu shot :

”Vaccination is especially important for people 65 years and older because they are at increased risk for complications from flu.”

Some of those complications include pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus and ear infections, and it can exacerbate chronic health problems such as congestive heart failure, lung disease, asthma and a number of blood, kidney and liver disorders.

There are only a few instances of elders who should not take the vaccine:

  • People with a severe allergy to chicken eggs
  • People who previously have had a severe reaction to the shot
  • People with a history of Guillain-Barré Syndrome after receiving a flu shot

There are two available shots for elders:

  1. The regular seasonal flu shot made from killed virus
  2. A high dose vaccine for people 65 and older also made from killed virus

The nasal vaccine is recommended only for people age 2 to 49 who are not pregnant.

Traditional Medicare and Medicare Advantage plans cover the flu shot with no copay or deductible and you can get it anywhere so long as the provider is enrolled in Medicare. You do not need a referral.

Now, let's debunk some myths about the flu vaccine:

• You can catch the flu from the flu shot. WRONG. The vaccine is made from a killed virus. If you get sick right after a shot it is because you had already contracted the virus and it takes a couple of weeks for the vaccine to work.

• The shot guarantees you will not get the flu. WRONG. There is that two week period before the vaccine takes effect and, says the CDC, this year's vaccine has a 62 percent effective rate, which is about average year to year.

• Antibiotics will knock out the flu. WRONG. Antibiotics work only against bacterial infections. The flu is a viral infection.

• “I had a flu shot last year and that should hold me.” WRONG. Flu viruses mutate and the vaccine is reconfigured each year to account for new strains.

You can read about other flu myths at this Harvard Medical School webpage .

As noted above, the vaccine is about 62 percent effective. Here are some other important, commonsense practices to help keep you healthy this flu season:

  • Wash your hands often.
  • Avoid close contact with sick people.
  • Keep yourself healthy: eat your fruits and veggies, exercise and get plenty of sleep.

So please, if you have not done so, it is not too late to get a flu shot. Although it takes about two weeks for antibodies to develop to protect you, the flu season extends into May leaving plenty of time to make the shot worth your effort.

And worth it for the people you might infect if you get sick. If you do get sick, for the sake of everyone else, stay home until you are well. Adults are contagious from a day or so before they feel symptoms and continuing for up to seven days after becoming sick.

Here is a good, short recap covering a lot of what I've reported above.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Lyn Burnstine: Mary B. Summerlin R.I.P.

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