By Ramesh Amara, M.D., and Carlyle Stewart, M.D., MPH, FACP
Here we go again. It’s high time for runny noses, sore throats, fever, body aches and the like. In other words, it’s flu season.
For seniors, a good defense this time of year starts with a good offense: getting the flu vaccine early. Flu season usually peaks in January or February, but it can occur as late as May. While early immunization is most effective, it is not too late to get vaccinated in December, January or beyond. Since it can take up to two weeks for the vaccination to provide protection against the flu virus, it is best to aim for getting a flu shot in the fall before the dreaded bug really gets going.
“Many seniors we see in our office inquire about the importance of getting a flu shot every season,” said Carlyle Stewart, M.D., of West Plano Internal Medicine. “I let them know that as they age, their immune system weakens. This weakening makes seniors, especially adults 65 years and older, a real target for the flu. Unless there’s an underlying health issue that may result in complications, I recommend a flu vaccination.”
This recommendation comes with good reason. Seasonal flu can bring with it serious health risks for seniors. According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, 90 percent of flu-related deaths and more than half of flu-related hospitalizations occur in people 65 years of age or older.
How to Protect Yourself
To arm yourself against the flu, start by checking with your primary care doctor or internist about the availability of the flu vaccine ― then schedule an appointment quickly. If you get the flu vaccine, you are 60 percent less likely to need treatment for the flu. Getting the vaccine has been shown to offer other important benefits as well, including reducing illness, antibiotic use, time lost from work and activities, hospitalizations and deaths. Not only will the vaccine protect you from becoming ill, it will also prevent you from spreading the flu to your spouse, children, grandchildren and friends.
As a senior, you have options for the vaccination: to receive a regular dose flu shot or a higher-dose flu shot. Designed for people 65 and older, the higher-dose vaccine should result in a stronger immune response, but both forms are acceptable. Always talk to your health care provider about which vaccine is right for you.
“Seasonal flu vaccines have a very good safety record,” according to Ramesh Amara, M.D., with Primary Care and Internal Medicine of Frisco. “Despite popular belief, you are not susceptible to the flu when you get the flu shot. The shot contains inactivated flu viruses that cannot cause illness. A mild reaction such as soreness at the injection site, headache and low-grade fever are sometimes associated with the flu shot. If you experience a severe reaction, such as difficulty breathing, hives or facial swelling, it’s important to seek medical attention immediately.”
Because you are at an increased risk of getting pneumonia, it’s wise to also talk to your health care provider about getting the pneumococcal vaccine.
Everyday Steps to Boost Your Health
In addition to getting the flu vaccine, the following everyday steps can help keep you healthy this flu season:
- Wash your hands often with soap and water or an alcohol-based hand rub.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.
- Try to avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Get plenty of sleep and exercise, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids and enjoy a healthy diet.
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
- If you are sick with flu-like symptoms, stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone.
Here’s to Your Health
Simply by virtue of your age, you are at a higher risk of complications from the flu, but you can make it difficult for the flu to target you by taking a few precautions. Here’s to your seasonal health!
Ramesh Amara, M.D. and Carlyle Stewart, M.D., MPH, FACP provide services through Texas Health Physicians Group practices. For more information about Dr. Amara and Primary Care and Internal Medicine of Frisco, call 972-377-8695 or visit InternalMedicineFrisco.com. For information about Dr. Stewart and West Plano Internal Medicine, call 972-981-7210 or visit WestPlanoInternalMedicine.com.