With flu season right around the corner, it’s imperative to keep seniors safe from influenza. That’s why flu shots for seniors, which have a higher dose of the vaccine than the flu shot for those younger, can save lives.
“The immune system isn’t as robust as when you’re younger, so all seniors have a higher risk of death and complications as a result of influenza,” warns Dr. Noel DeBacker, a physician with Chicago Methodist Senior Services. “A senior should seek medical care right away.”
Senior flu symptoms
Flu symptoms are fairly common among the general population which can include: high fever, muscle aches and pain, cough and possible sore throat.
Seniors, however, may have muted symptoms. The fever may be lower, so Dr. DeBacker advises watching for a change in functional ability: reduced activity, extra time spent in bed, weight loss and low appetite all may indicate a case of the flu.
The flu comes on quickly, so seniors should get treatment right away, as other serious health problems, like pneumonia and heart attacks, are more likely during a case of the flu.
Flu shots for seniors improve immunity
The CDC recommends that everyone over six months old receive the influenza vaccine every year. Because the virus is constantly mutating, each year’s vaccine is different.
The vaccine is formulated on the best guess of which strains will be present during the next flu season. “Most of the time they hit the mark, but sometimes they don’t,” states Dr. DeBacker. The vaccine is typically 40 to 60 percent effective when the best guess is correct.
Dr. DeBacker points out that flu cases increase in November and peak December through February. Since it takes about two weeks for the vaccine to take full effect, October is ideal for vaccination. That said, it’s better to get it a few weeks late than not at all.
People over age 65 may get a higher dose of the standard vaccine to stimulate a better immune response. These high-dose flu shots for seniors include options like FluZone High-Dose and FLUAD.
It’s not unusual to feel achy for a day or two after receiving the vaccine, and a low temperature is not uncommon. This is a normal immune response. If the flu does present immediately after vaccination, it’s important to know the vaccine is not the cause. It takes two days after exposure for the disease to develop. Any contact with people with the flu prior to vaccination could prompt symptoms right away.
Those who have experienced a severe reaction to the flu shot in the past should speak with their doctor before getting the vaccine.
Getting & staying well
Dr. DeBacker recommends keeping your distance from people who are sick. Since influenza travels via droplet transmission, maintaining a six-foot distance from people with the flu keeps those droplets from entering your mucus membranes.
Washing your hands is an effective first line of defense. “Consider your fingertips to be ‘community property’ until you wash them,” counsels Dr. DeBacker. Those flu-filled droplets live on doorknobs, shopping carts and any communal objects.
Seniors who contract the flu need antiviral treatment right away. Tamiflu, Relenza and Oseltamivir can reduce flu complications and save lives when administered in the first 48 hours. If in doubt of whether or not symptoms truly represent influenza, it’s best to get checked out.
Listen to an interview on flu shots for seniors with Dr. Noel DeBacker, a physician with Chicago Methodist Senior Services, here.