Though thankfully not as pervasive as in years past, the 2018-2019 flu season marches on and could stretch into May. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), activity actually increased a bit in February and could remain elevated for a number of weeks yet. Those at greatest risk are advised to continue to take precautions.
What’s important to remember about the flu is that the virus changes every year. That means even if you were vaccinated last season, you still need to be vaccinated again with the new inoculation for this season. If you missed it in the fall, don’t worry – it’s not too late. A vaccine will boost your immune response to this season’s most prevalent strains of the virus as we make our way through this peak period.
Older adults, children and those with chronic disease are in the highest risk category for flu complications – here are just a few of the reasons to keep your guard up through the end of the season:
- People 65 years and older are at greater risk of serious complications from the flu. While flu seasons can vary in severity, people 65 years and older bear the greatest burden of severe flu disease. In recent years, for example, it’s estimated that 70 – 80% of seasonal flu-related deaths have occurred in people 65 years and older. In addition, 54 – 70% of seasonal flu-related hospitalizations have occurred among people in this age group. So influenza can be quite serious for people 65 and older.
- A flu vaccine is the best protection against flu. Flu vaccines are updated each year as needed to keep up with changing viruses. Immunity also wanes over a year so annual vaccination is needed to ensure the best possible protection against influenza.
- Flu vaccination has been shown to reduce flu illnesses and more serious flu complications that can result in hospitalization or even death in older people. For example, a 2017 study showed that flu vaccination reduced deaths, intensive care unit (ICU) admissions, ICU length of stay, and overall duration of hospitalization among hospitalized flu patients.
- Flu shots are safe and do not cause the flu. Side effects of flu shots are mild (soreness, redness, tenderness or swelling where the shot was given), especially when compared to the disease itself.
Healthcare specialists at Belmont Village agree that flu vaccines are critically important.
“Vaccination is always your best defense,” says Sheri Easton-Garrett, MSN, RN, CDP, Senior Vice President of Clinical Services for Belmont Village. “We offer the vaccine to all of our residents. Adults 65 and over need the flu shot – to protect themselves and their friends and neighbors.”
Belmont also offers flu shots to employees at no cost. “We have a robust influenza program, which not only promotes influenza vaccination among our residents but among our employees as well,” Sheri explains. “We provide education on the importance of the vaccine, hand hygiene, and cough etiquette.”
People 65 years and older should get a flu shot and not a nasal spray vaccine. There are two types of flu shot recommended for seniors: high dose and adjuvanted. These vaccines may result in more of the mild side effects that can occur with standard-dose seasonal shots. (More information about the two kinds of flu shots is available from the CDC.)
If you get sick with flu symptoms, see a doctor right away. There are antiviral drugs that can treat flu illness and prevent serious flu complications. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends prompt treatment for people who have influenza infection or suspected influenza infection and who are at high risk for serious flu complications – particularly people 65 years and older.
For more information about influenza and the vaccine options, visit the CDC’s website.