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Even though people are living longer and healthier lives, the flu season brings a variety of risks and holds more serious complications for people 65 years and older because human immune defenses decrease with age. Flu seasons can vary in severity, but people 65 years and older should be cautious in all cases.
Recent studies have shown that about 70 percent of seasonal flu-related deaths occur in people 65 years and older while 54 percent of hospitalizations occur in this same demographic. Influenza can hold serious consequences for people 65 years and older. The best way to protect yourself against the flu, and its health complications, is with a flu vaccine each year.
Flu season runs between October and May in the United States, and the CDC recommends everyone vaccinate by the end of October. Remember, it takes about two weeks for the flu shot to be effective.
If the flu is still circulating within your community, it is also recommended to vaccinate throughout the season, even into January. The reason vaccinations are critical for people 65 years and older is because they are at a higher risk of developing complications from the flu. Vaccines are updated each season to combat the specific flu strain, so it is pertinent you vaccinate each year to combat the new strains. Another reason it is recommended to be vaccinated yearly is because the immunity begins to wane after one year, so annual vaccination is needed to ensure the best protection.
If you are over the age of 65, here’s what you need to know about the flu, including symptoms, complications, and prevention.
What are the symptoms of the flu?
The onset of flu symptoms can happen quickly, with some people developing symptoms one to four days after exposure to the virus. If you become sick, it’s important that you know how to differentiate flu symptoms from common cold symptoms. Flu and cold symptoms can be similar, but cold symptoms are usually milder. In addition, cold symptoms come on gradually.
It’s different with the flu. Not only is the onset of symptoms abrupt, but the flu also causes symptoms that might not occur with the common cold.
Symptoms of the flu and common cold include:
- runny nose
- sore throat
If you have the flu, additional symptoms may include:
- body aches
- chest discomfort
If you’re over the age of 65 and develop any of these flu symptoms, see a doctor right away to reduce the risk of complications. If you see a doctor within the first 48 hours of your first symptom, your doctor may prescribe an antiviral medication. When taken early, this medication can reduce the duration and severity of your illness.
There’s no cure for the flu, so the virus must run its course. The symptoms do respond to over-the-counter cold and flu medications, though. It’s also important to get plenty of rest to strengthen your immune system and fight the virus.
By taking care of yourself at home, you should feel better within one to two weeks. With the help of informed and proactive families, we can help more older adults get the care they need, and so reduce serious illnesses and deaths from the flu.