The flu season is upon us and this year’s flu is particularly virulent. A large number of people are falling ill, and in some states like California and Texas, several victims have been hospitalized. This is a good reason for people of all ages, particularly seniors to get flu shots.
Facts about Seniors and the Flu
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that between 71 percent and 85 percent of seasonal flu-related deaths occur in people 65 years of age and older. There are several reasons for this. Many seniors suffer from more than one chronic condition that makes them more prone to complications. For instance an older person with chronic asthma and congestive heart failure will find it harder to fight a flu virus than a healthy person. Older people are also more prone to having severe reactions to the flu than younger people, and are more likely to develop complications.
An even greater threat to seniors is the danger of contracting pneumonia. A study conducted by the American Lung Association notes that 85 percent of all pneumonia and influenza deaths occur among people aged 65+.
The influenza virus falls into four categories, A, B, C, and D. The seasonal influenzas that affect us every year are the type A and B viruses, with type A being more pervasive. The A virus is divided into subtypes based on two proteins on its surface: hemagglutinin (H) and neuraminidase (N). Following each letter is a number that refer to variations in the form of each protein. These variations are important, because our immune system hones in on them to attack the virus.
This year’s influenza is classified as a Type A, H3N2 flu strain. This strain is considered one of the more dangerous. This does not necessarily mean the strain is lethal but it is a good reason to take precautions.
In spite of these threats, a large proportion of seniors will find reasons not to get flu vaccines. Some reasons are based on widespread misconceptions: a person can get the flu from a flu shot, or the flu shot given last year should still be effective.
Misconceptions about Flu Shots
You cannot get flu from a flu shot. The flu vaccine is comprised of dead or inactivated flu so it cannot propagate. The only way you can get the flu is if you are exposed to it before receiving the shot. Flu vaccines cause antibodies to develop in the body but that can take up to about two weeks after receiving the vaccination. If you are exposed to the flu before you got your shot or within the next couple of days you could develop flu, but not from the injection.
Last year’s flu shot is still effective this year. The flu mutates every year so last year’s vaccine is not effective for this year’s strain. These variations are important, because our immune system hones in on the proteins to attack the virus. The serum that worked last year does not necessarily offers the ability to fight this year’s mutations.
Some people who have allergies to eggs fear they might have an allergic reaction to the flu shot because the vaccination is manufactured using egg-based technology. If you are allegoric to eggs you should discuss this with your physician. However, studies now show that side effects from flu shots in egg-allergic patients are unlikely.
For all these reasons it is important that every senior, as well as everyone else, get a flu shot. There is no good reason not to get one and many reasons why you should. Many large pharmacies and walk in clinics offer the vaccine for a small fee and there are many locations where you can get the shot for free—including health fairs, churches, and medical clinics. Be sure to schedule time to get the vaccine before you are infected. This is an easy way to protect you and your loved ones from the flu.
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