As fall turns to winter, one thing is certain—flu season is upon us once again. Chills, body aches, fatigue, coughing, and fever are a few of the classic symptoms of the flu, also known as influenza. For most older adults, avoiding the bug should include getting the flu vaccine in a timely manner.
It is common for seniors to have questions about the flu shot, and wonder if some of the most persistent beliefs about the vaccine are true or not. We’ll address some common myths and offer a few health tips to help older adults avoid being bitten by the flu bug this winter.
The Facts About Seniors and Flu Shots
For young, healthy adults, the flu might not seem like a big deal. Getting sick may slow them down for a few days, but many may believe it isn’t serious. That’s simply not true. The flu can be life-threatening at any age, but especially for seniors.
The risk of a serious health crisis is greatest among older adults for a variety of reasons:
- Adults aged 65 and older are at a higher risk than younger adults for complications related to the flu. Pneumonia, for example, is a common result of influenza in seniors. Older adults account for 85 percent of flu-related deaths and almost 70 percent of influenza-related hospital admissions every year.
- Seniors are more likely to have a weakened immune system because of pre-existing health conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The flu further exacerbates these illnesses.
- Because older adults who live alone sometimes rely on convenience or fast food, their diet may be poor. A lack of proper nutrition can make it more difficult for the body to fight off viruses and infections.
It’s also important to know that people with the flu are the most contagious the day before symptoms appear. That means most people are sick before they are aware of it and as a result, may not take precautions.
When Is the Best Time to Get a Flu Vaccine?
Older adults often wonder when they should receive their flu shot. Most experts say that the best time to be vaccinated is before influenza season begins. Most years that means getting your flu shot in mid-October. That gives the body time to build up immunity before the flu begins to spread.
If you are worried that early vaccination will put you or your senior loved one at risk for getting sick at the end of flu season, you can set those concerns aside. Experts say the vaccine will keep you protected for a full year.
Side Effects from the Flu Vaccine
People often think the flu shot builds your immunity by giving you a small dose of influenza. As a result, some older adults resist getting the vaccine because they don’t want it to make them sick. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), flu shots can’t make you sick.
The CDC says the influenza vaccine builds immunity by administering either an inactivated virus or a single strain of the flu. This produces an immune response in the body that protects you from the flu.
Side-effects from the flu shot are usually minimal. A few of the most common ones include headache, muscle aches, and pain at the injection site. More serious side effects should be reported to your primary care physician.
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