Daniel B. Jernigan, MD, MPH
Director of the Influenza Division
National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
For millions of people, the flu can mean a fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, and fatigue for a week or more. But did you know that if you are 65 years or older, you are at increased risk of serious flu-related complications, like pneumonia?
“People’s immune systems can become weaker with age, which places older adults at high risk of serious flu-related complications,” says Dr. Lisa Grohskopf, a medical officer with CDC’s Influenza Division.
While flu seasons vary in severity, people 65 years and older bear a comparatively greater burden of serious flu-related illness compared to other age groups during most flu seasons. Data from recent seasons shows that between about 70 to 90 percent of seasonal flu-related deaths in the United States have occurred among people 65 years and older. For hospitalizations, this number is between about 50 and 70 percent.
This is why flu vaccination is especially important for people 65 years and older. While flu vaccine can vary in how well it works, there are a lot of scientific data showing that flu vaccination prevents illness and hospitalizations, even among people 65 and older for whom the vaccine may not work as well. A new CDC study published this summer in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases (CID) found that flu vaccination reduced the risk of flu-related hospitalization among people 65 to 74 years by 61%. Vaccinated people 75 and older were similarly protected (57%).
Krupa Shah, MD, MPH
University of Rochester School of Medicine & Dentistry
Like it or not, the flu season is back. Everybody should take notice, especially older adults. This blog post will give you some tips on how to prevent getting the flu.
Why is it especially important for older adults to be extra careful about the flu?
- In general, older adults have weaker immune systems compared to younger adults. This is a result of the aging process. In fact, people 65 years or older are at the greatest risk of complications from the flu.
- Older adults become sick more frequently, which often results in hospitalization.
What are some of the more common flu symptoms?
- Runny nose
- Sore throat
- Body aches
With autumn just around the corner, now’s the ideal time to get your flu shot. Influenza season can start as early as October, and it takes your body about two weeks to respond to the vaccine by creating the flu-fighting antibodies you need to fight off the virus. That’s why healthcare professionals recommend getting the shot as soon as it becomes available in your community— usually early September. I’m planning to get my shot when I see my healthcare provider this month.
If you’re 65 or older, it’s particularly important to get vaccinated. Older adults run an increased risk of potentially serious complications of the flu, such as pneumonia. Some people, however, should talk with their healthcare provider before getting a flu shot, especially if you’ve experienced any of the following:
- severe allergic reaction to chicken eggs
- have had a serious reaction to the flu shot in the past
- have been diagnosed with Guillain-Barre Syndrome
And if you have a fever, hold off until it’s gone before getting your shot .
Though some vaccines protect you for years, the flu shot is only effective for one year. Why? The flu virus is constantly changing, so the vaccine that worked against last year’s virus won’t take care of this year’s. Don’t skip a year!
Good news: Medicare covers annual flu shots, and there’s no copay. You can get the flu vaccine from your healthcare professional, or at senior centers, urgent care clinics, and health departments. Many retail pharmacies also offer the flu shot for a small fee. As of late August, the vaccine was available in many communities throughout the U.S. To find where you can get a shot near you, visit the frequently updated Flu Vaccine Locator on the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s website.
And for more information about the flu and other essential immunizations for older people, take a look at these tipsheets: “Flu Prevention and Treatment Tips” and “Essential Vaccination Information for Older Adults.”