The flu is a relatively common virus that affects most people at some point in their life. Though unpleasant, the flu may seem of minimal concern to the general public, but it can be dangerous - especially for older adults. Those 65 years of age and above experience a much higher risk of flu-related complications including worsening health conditions, hospitalizations, or fatalities. Knowing how to protect yourself against the flu will help you reduce the risks of catching the flu, and help to prevent flu complications by educating yourself about the signs associated with this virus.
As we age, our immune systems are no longer as strong as they once were. Since they cannot fight off viruses or bacteria as well as they once did, this makes older adults more vulnerable and more susceptible to sickness. Not only is it easier to catch the flu with a weakened immune system, but your body is not as well equipped to fight off the sickness, which can lead to a high risk of complications or other illnesses.
How can you reduce the risk of the flu?
One of the best ways to support flu prevention is to get your flu shot. The influenza vaccine not only helps prevent catching or spreading the flu, but also mitigates the risks associated with the flu.
Healthcare professionals, as well as many pharmacies and drugstores, have flu vaccine clinics. In some cases, the vaccine dosage may be higher for those over 65, or multiple doses may be recommended, so be sure to ask a pharmacist or healthcare provider about vaccines targeted for seniors. The strains of flu change over the years, so it is very important to get your vaccine annually, to insure you have the most up to date vaccine. If you live in a senior living community, talk to care providers. They may have an in-house vaccine clinic scheduled so you can get your vaccine in the comfort of your own home. Many Pacifica Senior Living communities offer flu shots to our residents for optimal convenience.
Other ways to reduce catching and spreading the flu include practicing good hand hygiene. Wash your hands often, or carry alcohol-based hand sanitizer to help reduce the spread of germs. This is especially important when in a public place. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has great Hand Washing Tips to help ensure you are staying germ-free.
Cover your mouth and nose - especially when coughing or sneezing. Since the flu (like the Covid-19 virus) spreads through airborne droplets, covering your mouth and nose with a tissue when you sneeze or cough will help reduce the spread of germs. Never cover your face with your hands, but rather sneeze or cough into your elbow or a tissue. When you cough or sneeze on your hands, your hands then carry the germs you were trying to block, and can easily spread them onto anything you touch.
Avoid touching your face, eyes, nose and mouth. Germs are more easily spread to these areas, and cause you to contract the flu virus.
Stay home if you are sick. Whether you have a cold or the flu, staying home when you are sick will help to prevent the spread of harmful germs and bacteria to others, who may be more at risk. Even if you are feeling okay, you could unknowingly put others at risk who have weaker immune systems than you. Similarly, avoiding close contact and giving everyone ample personal space when in public will help reduce the spread of germs.
What are the most common flu symptoms?
Another important part of preventing flu complications is to know the signs and symptoms of the flu. The flu can hit and progress quickly, so understanding both early symptoms and signs of complications will help you get the medical assistance you need in a timely manner. The symptoms of flu are also often confused with the common cold, so understanding the difference will also help you know when to seek treatment for the flu.
What’s the difference between a cold and the flu?
Cold symptoms are generally milder and come on more slowly than flu symptoms. The flu usually hits very abruptly, showing signs 1-4 days after exposure. There are also symptoms that occur with the flu that are not present if you have the common cold.
Both a cold and the flu can include:
- Runny nose
- Sore throat
- Congestion (stuffy nose)
Flu-specific symptoms may also include:
- Fever and/or chills
- Body aches
- Weakness, fatigue or tiredness
- Chest discomfort
If you experience any of these symptoms, contact a doctor or healthcare provider - especially if you are over 65 - to reduce the risk of any serious illness or complications. If caught early (within the first 48 hrs) antiviral drugs may be prescribed to help reduce the impact of influenza.
What are common complications of the flu?
Flu-related complications are the more dangerous side effect of catching the virus. These more serious complications include bacterial pneumonia, bronchitis, or sinus infections, ear infections, or the worsening of existing medical conditions like lung disease, asthma, diabetes, or heart disease. Flu has also been linked to an increased risk of heart attack and an increased risk of a stroke during the early stages of the infection and for several months afterward.
When is “Flu Season”?
While the influenza virus can be found year-round, ‘Flu-season’ marks the time of year when cases rise, and the general public is more at risk of contracting the virus. In the United States, this usually happens in fall and winter, peaking between December and February. Flu vaccines and clinics are usually available in early fall in order to help prevent the start and magnitude of the seasonal flu. Many clinics are administering both seasonal influenza immunizations and the coronavirus Covid-19 vaccine during the same visit.
You can also learn more about key flu facts and flu health information from the CDC, or reach out to your healthcare provider, nurse or caregiver for additional information. Staying healthy, washing hands, and getting vaccinated can help stop the spread of flu, in turn helping you and your loved ones stay healthy this flu season.