Flu Prevention Tips for Seniors

You can never predict what will happen when you get the flu. When it strikes, you will likely endure a few days of sheer misery in the form of unrelenting headaches, fever, fatigue, coughing, and a sore throat. There might even be bouts of diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. Awful stuff, to be sure, but at least it’s a short-term affliction.

On the other hand, the flu could trigger lengthy medical issues including dehydration and pneumonia, or exacerbate existing conditions such as asthma, emphysema, and cardiovascular disease. Any of these ailments could be fatal. To reduce your chances of illness, doctors encourage patients to get a flu shot each year.

Why is there so much concern about the flu?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 80 to 90 percent of seasonal, flu-related deaths have occurred in people 65 and older. Fifty to 70 percent of seasonal, flu-related hospitalizations have occurred among that age group. Weakened or declining immune systems in the 65-and-older crowd are believed to be the primary reason for higher flu cases in this age category.

When is the best time to get a flu vaccination?

Flu season typically runs from October to May. Shipment of vaccines to providers may begin as early as August in some areas. The ideal time to get a shot is as soon as the vaccine is available, largely because it takes about two weeks for the vaccine to start protecting you from the flu. Also, vaccine availability can vary from year to year and location-to-location, so it’s best to get the shot as soon as you can.

What’s the best vaccine for people ages 65 and older?

The options are a regular-dose vaccine and a newer, high-dose vaccine for this age group. “The ‘high-dose vaccine’ contains four times the amount of antigen (a harmful substance that causes the body to produce antibodies) as the regular flu shot,” says the CDC, “and is associated with a stronger immune response following vaccination.”

How can I pay for a flu vaccine?

Seniors covered by Medicare Part B can get one free flu shot per season from a Medicare provider. Many private health-insurance plans also cover the cost of flu vaccines (though some might require a co-pay).

If this is your first time getting a flu shot, or you’ve moved to or are visiting an unfamiliar area, the American Lung Association’s HealthMap Vaccine Finder is a valuable resource. Just type in a ZIP code to get a list of providers and a map to locate them.

A yearly shot – whether obtained at a doctor’s office or medical clinic, a public health department, a pharmacy or another type of retailer – is the most effective way to ward off a bout with seasonal flu. Get your vaccine, and stay healthy this flu season.

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