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December 10, 2018
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As Autumn begins, a reminder flu season can hit seniors hard

By: Julie Ann Soukoulis
September 28, 2018

Hard to believe with Autumn just beginning and warm weather still providing one of the many amazing benefits of living in lovely Sonoma County that it is time for flu shots for older adults.  By mid-September the flu shot clinics will begin to serve the community. While the flu can get anyone down, older adults may be particularly vulnerable to the effects of these viruses, which could turn deadly fast. If you’re a senior or a caregiver to an older loved one, be sure you’re doing all you can to protect against the flu.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the flu is a contagious respiratory disease that can be prevented by a flu vaccination. Make an appointment with your doctor’s office to discuss whether or not you should have a flu shot.

The headlines from last January 2018 read: “Elderly should avoid the flu at all costs this season;” in Cleveland, “Flu deaths  continue to rise;” and in New Orleans, “Flu overwhelming emergency rooms”.

Flu season can be terrible for anybody, but especially for older adults.  Unfortunately, it has been the most vulnerable to mostly children, those with serious chronic conditions, and older adults who are paying the highest price. 

CNN reported that this last year’s flu had hit people in every state except Hawaii (and District of Columbia), according to the Centers for Disease Control, with more than 60,000 people affected by early January. For older people, seven percent of deaths by late December were due to flu and pneumonia, which is how CDC tracks this data. Not surprisingly, older adults are the group most often hospitalized due to the virus and its complications. The Chinook (Washington) Times reports that those over age 65 have died from flu and pneumonia at a rate nearly six times higher than usual.

Due to higher risk of serious complications because their immune defenses weaken with age, older adults are more likely to catch the virus.  A study in the journal PLOS (PLOS is a nonprofit open access science, technology and medicine publisher, innovator and advocacy organization with a library of open access journals and other scientific literature under an open content license) over the past six  flu seasons  found that 71 to 85 percent of seasonal flu-related deaths and 54 to 70 percent of flu-related hospitalizations occurred in those 65 and older.

The main problem for older adults is treatment.  Often entirely missed recognition of influenza, which means that older adults often don’t get treated early or at all with anti-influenza drugs such as oseltamivir, commonly known as Tamiflu.

Particularly for those older adults who have chronic illnesses (especially those affecting the heart or lungs) or who are frail, you don’t want to miss that chance to take anti-influenza drugs. They can’t guarantee that an older person will avoid hospitalization or death from influenza, but they do improve one’s chances.

And anti-influenza drugs are most likely to work when they are given within 48 hours of a person falling ill from influenza, with earlier being better.

According to the CDC, October or November is the best time to get vaccinated but getting vaccinated in December or even later can still be beneficial since most influenza activity occurs in January or later in most years. Though it varies, flu season can last as late as May.

While flu shots are recommended for everyone over 50, there are certain people who should not receive these shots, according to the CDC. Those who should not be vaccinated include:

 People who have a severe allergy to chicken eggs.

People who have had a severe reaction to an influenza vaccination in the past.

 People who developed Guillain-Barre syndrome (GBS) within 6 weeks of getting an influenza vaccine previously.

People who have a moderate or severe illness with a fever should wait to get vaccinated until their symptoms lessen.

 If you cannot get a flu shot, talk with your health-care provider about other precautions that you can take to prevent the flu.    The flu virus changes every year.  This year’s vaccine was made specially for the upcoming flu season. Simple reminder- remember to wash your hands regularly and get plenty of rest. And if your older loved  one gets the flu and is in need of some temporary care, consider contacting the local Home Instead Senior Care office for help. 

Julie Ann Soukoulis is the owner of Home Instead Senior care office in Rohnert Park, mother of two and passionate about healthy living at all ages. Having cared for her own two parents, she understands your struggles and aims, through her website, www.homeinstead.com/sonoma to educate and encourage seniors & caregivers. Have a caregiving or aging concern?  She’d love to hear from you at 586-1516 anytime.