Chills, body aches, fever, and a cough are classic symptoms of the seasonal flu, also known as influenza. As the world’s attention is focused on fighting the coronavirus, it’s essential not to forget that flu season has also arrived. For seniors, coming down with a case of it may be dangerous and potentially even life-threatening.
While the flu is no fun for anyone, the risks are often greater for older adults:
- Complications: Adults over the age of 65 are at a higher risk than younger people for a wide range of serious health complications related to the flu. Pneumonia, for example, is a common result of influenza in seniors. Older adults account for 85% of flu-related deaths and almost 70% of influenza-related hospital admissions every year.
- Pre-existing conditions: Seniors are more likely to have a weakened immune system because of pre-existing health conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. The flu further exacerbates these illnesses.
It’s also important to know that the flu is most contagious the day before symptoms appear in a person. People are often infected before they realize it and, as a result, may not stay home or take precautions. As they make their way through the day, they may leave a trail of the virus behind.
One of the best steps older adults can take to protect their health is to have a flu shot. Unfortunately, some seniors resist getting vaccinated. Oftentimes it’s because they believe one or more myths about flu shots.
What are those myths? Here are a few of the most common.
Flu Shot Myth Busters
- You’ll develop the flu if you have a vaccine.
People often think the influenza vaccine builds immunity by giving you a small dose of the flu. An older adult might be resisting the vaccine because they don’t want it to make them sick.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), flu shots won’t make you sick. They explain that the influenza vaccine builds immunity by administering either an inactivated virus or a single strain of the flu. This produces an immune response in the body that protects you from the flu.
- The flu shot hurts and causes painful side effects.
Most people find the shot itself causes very little discomfort. You may be able to further minimize it by relaxing and not tensing your arm as you receive the vaccine. Afterward, move your arm around a bit to prevent stiffness.
As for side effects, those are usually minimal too. A few of the most common include headache, muscle aches, and pain at the injection site. Anything more serious should be reported to your primary care physician.
- Getting the vaccine every few years is good enough.
Unlike other vaccines, this one changes every year. Researchers modify it to include protection against strains of the flu predicted to be the worst that season. Because of that, it’s important to take time to get your flu shot every October.
When Should You Get a Flu Vaccine?
People often wonder when they should receive their flu shot. Some are afraid if they get it too soon, it won’t protect them the entire season. Others worry delaying will put them at risk if the flu makes the rounds early.
While your primary care physician is the best person to answer this question, most experts suggest getting your flu shot in mid-October. That gives the body time to build up immunity before the flu begins to spread. If you haven’t received yours yet, it’s not too late. Getting vaccinated in November will offer protection through the typically busy holidays.
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