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Tuesday, 02 September 2014

Elder Health and Influenza

The Labor Day holiday always reminds me that it's flu shot season and even if I had forgotten, signs were already up last week at the supermarket pharmacies.

Maybe you know the statistics about flu and old people. Or maybe you don't:

9 out of 10 flu-related deaths each year occur in people age 65 and older

As do six out of 10 flu-related hospital admissions

Flu is particularly dangerous for elders with such chronic conditions as COPD, diabetes and heart disease. (86 percent of people age 65 and older have at least one chronic condition)

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) the best way for elders to avoid the flu is with an annual vaccination

For elders, getting the flu vaccine early in the season is associated with greater benefit

Dr. Paul Sax, clinical director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and a professor at Harvard Medical School, notes in the September Harvard Health Letter:

”Although we know that flu activity starts in the early winter and subsides by spring, our ability to predict the severity of a given season is very limited.”

The CDC notes that people at high risk (elders, among others) should begin getting vaccinated soon after flu vaccine becomes available, ideally by October, so that as many people as possible are protected before flu season begins.

As in previous years, there are two kinds of flu vaccines this year – the traditional, standard-dose and the higher-dose made especially for old people whose immune systems suffer from age-related decline.

At the CDC's key facts webpage is a list of all the various flu variatioins including those for very young children, nasal spray and egg-free with links to explanations about each one of them.

As always, check with you physician before taking the vaccine.

An annual flu shot is a Medicare Part B benefit. tTis means that the vaccine is covered with no copay for Medicare beneficiaries 65 years of age and older.

The CDC has an amazingly thorough flu section at its website, probably more than you ever wanted to know but it is always good to have as much information as possible because individual situations can be so different.

And one more thing: don't forget everyday precautions for yourself and others:

Wash your hands frequently to help prevent transmission of germs

If you are sick, stay home so you don't infect others

Stay away from sick people

Just last week, at a volunteer-related gathering, a woman sat down at my table as she announced that she had come out for the event even though she was sick. I doubt she had the flu this early in the season but she didn't say what kind of sick she was.

I have no patience for such irresponsibility, nor should you. I moved as far away as I could and still be at the table and I did not partake of the finger food she offered to share.

Flu - more formally, influenza - can be deadly to elders. Be sure you keep yourself and others as safe from it as possible.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, William Weatherstone: Paddy Rice – A Great Loss


Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post

Comments

Having worked with kids who sneeze and cough on me, I always get a flu shot.

I got my high dose flu short several days ago. I'm going to be doing a lot of traveling in the next months, and planes are germ breeding grounds.

For people who still think the flu is just having cold-like symptoms for a few days, about 10 years ago I had THE FLU, and was unbelievably sick for about 10 days. I never want to go through that again.

Good health to everyone!

Good reminder. I got mine last year and still got sick. Recovering took several weeks. I'm going for the high dose this year. Hope they've guessed right about what's coming.

All great advice, but I would add one more piece of advice. Eat a diet consisting of lots of fruits, veggies, legumes, nuts and whole grains. The more of those you eat and the less meat and dairy that you eat, the greater is the chance that your immune system will be able to fight whatever germs come its way.

I am afraid I am not aboard 100% about this flu shot thing. Might it not be a good way to die?

Those 9 out of 10 people over 65 who died --- were they in ill health or had problems with health? If I am not strong enough to fight the flu --- is it maybe my time?

I love living and am so far lucky to be healthy but wouldn't mind a quick exit if it is my time.

The last time I took a flu shot was 15 years ago. It was also the last time I got the flu. I have been on subways and crowded city streets where people have coughed and sneezed on me and still, no flu (or even a cold for that matter). It's not that I am afraid of shots (god knows I've been stuck, poked and prodded hundreds of times in the last few years). It's just that I have an aversion to putting foreign substances into my body and disturbing that very delicate balance that my immune system has managed to build up over the years. I know this is contrary to popular opinion and I am not encouraging anybody to follow my lead, but I also don't think I'm alone in this thinking.

Thanks for the reminder, Ronni. Though I have gotten the flu shot for many years I didn't know about the extra heavy dose for elders and I didn't know about the advantage of an early shot.

I, too, had influenza a number of years ago in my late 40's…a month or two after I had my flu shot. It hit me like a train: I was well one minute and the next I was so incredibly fatigued I just wanted to be put out of my misery. I got better in a few weeks, went back to work for a few days, and then had a relapse that turned into pneumonia. So I do still get a flu shot just to be on the safe side, but I also hate to put foreign substances in my body. Last year I finally had a shingles vaccination and then developed shingles a couple of months later. My doc thought that I probably had a milder case because of the vaccine. Caught it early, so I was able to get an antiviral shot that helped, too.

I'm asking the same questions as Victoria. Death is not the worst-case scenario.

I haven't had the flu in years. I've gotten flu shots faithfully and maybe (or maybe not) that has something to do with it. I'm in agreement with several responders in that I'd rather avoid foreign substances. Still, why take a chance? I'm terrible at being sick and would rather not infect others, so I'll be getting one this year, too. Like Celia, I hope they've guessed correctly about which strain(s) of flu will be coming around this year!

Respectfully, I don't believe any credible scientific findings back up what Jim Smith said about a low fat diet strengthening anyone's immune system.

I'm with Bruce on this one. I've had flu twice in my life and it was awful, but I still have no intention of ever getting a flu shot. For one thing, the flu virus mutates frequently and the vaccines are prepared months before anyone knows what form this year's flu is going to take. And secondly, all the hype about flu shots is based on fudged statistics. See: http://www.greenmedinfo.com/blog/what-science-says-about-getting-flu-shot?page=1 So I would rather do as much as I can to strengthen my immune system and trust that I shall stay healthy until, like Victoria says, it is my time to check out.

I had flu every year until I started getting an annual flu shot and I have never had the flu since. Thank you, I will opt to be on the safe side and get my shot as soon as the vaccine is available at my HMO .

I have never heard of a flu shot killing you (maybe there is documentation for this) but I have heard of the many elders who die from getting the flu. I believe in playing the odds.

I enjoyed reading all these comments. So many different views on getting flu shots.

Yes I get the flu shot every year, since we travel and both of us volunteer at schools.

We go all over the city on the crowded bus and metro.

But my 90 something mom never gets the shot, and never gets sick. She's a walking icon of health.

My mom and Bruce are on the same page. No flu shot.

I used to volunteer at the clinic when they gave flu shots.

No, I didn't do the poking, I just greeted and calmed down the poked.

It's so sad because my grandmother got the flu while she was in a nursing home and unfortunately couldn't bounce back from it. She's been getting sick more and more often and it's so hard to see. I'm always getting a flu shot every year!

Having had influenza at least 3 times in my life, and knowing how I suffered, I have been a flu-shot partaker ever since I hit age 55 - which, at the time, qualified one to get a shot (they were more-or-less rationed.) Like a few others, above, I have not had the flu since I started taking the shot. Never before had I gone this long (22 years) between bouts of the flu.

Flu shots aren't 100% effective; but, to the extent that they are effective they protect me and everyone with whom I come in contact. How horrid I would feel if my great-grandchildren got the flue from me because I did not get a shot.

Some of the bouts of illness, attributed to flu shots or contracted by residents of skilled nursing homes, are a bug/virus of some kind; but, they are not confirmed as flu. Having volunteered in a nursing home, I've learned about some of what goes around among the residents.

Thanks for the reminder, Ronni. Oh, BTW: Can you answer my perception that, if I get a shot in my physician's office, Medicare will pay for the shot but that there may be a charge for the nurse/staff who administered it?

Cop Car...
As long as the doctor or other qualified health care provider accepts assignment (paid directly from Medicare), flu shots are covered by Part B.

For years, I've taken the shot at a pharmacy and never been billed for anything.

I had flu a number of times and pneumonia, which was really debilitating, once---all before I was 50. Since I began getting annual flu shots religiously, I have not had flu. I get pneumonia vaccine, which was recommended after I turned 65, about every 4 - 5 years (I think). I had never heard of it so either it works or it's just coincidence.

Like others in the TGB space, I don't mind dying at my age, but I definitely don't want to be sick with flu or pneumonia to accomplish it. Both these illnesses do a good job of making life not worth living, but no thanks. I'll die another way, thank you.

I'm with you, Ronni, in having no patience with those who think they're being brave by working or participating in social events when they have a communicable illness. When I'm in line at the supermarket and see the clerk sneezing or coughing into his/her hand, then handling groceries, I move to another line even if the wait is longer.

Meg and others...
The pneumonia vaccine used to be recommended, as you note, every five years for people 65 and older.

That has been updated: now it is recommended only once at 65 or older unless you had the shot before age 65, then you should have one more.

I’ve been a vegetarian for about 25+ years and thought because my eating habits were so healthy I would not have to get the dreaded flu shot.

That was until when at age 65 I got the flu and then again the following year.

I now go early for my shot and when the pharmacist asked me last year if I wanted the high dose I said yes without any hesitation.

Thanks for the reminder. My husband The Engineer and I will get our shots tomorrow morning.

An important consideration is that several years ago many elders did not get vaccinated but got very sick. Millions of them ended up in ERs across the country--so many that some had to be put in tents on the hospital grounds.

An update to my comment above: My husband and I ended up getting our flu vaccinations yesterday since he had to go to a nearby pharmacy to pick up a prescription.

I suggested that I go with him, so we could also get our shots. I pointed that--since we're going to England in a few weeks--it would be better to get them right away. Now we're all set, and he thinks I'm brilliant for making that suggestion. Thanks again!

I used to work with a doctor who coughed, sneezed and practically spat wet drops of germ laden sputum on me. I didn't get shots and was sorry for it. He thought he was being heroic. I thought he was being an ass. Now I get a shot every year and haven't have the flu since the horrible Millennium flu. After that, I got the shots - and didn't work for the rude jerk anymore either. I try to stay away from the coughing, and sneezing, often by those who don't bother to clover their mouths but so far... I have been lucky

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