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Senior Citizen Alerts

National Flu Vaccination Week Opens with Senior Citizens as Prime Targets

60 percent of flu-related hospitalizations in the U.S. occur in senior age group; learn about extra-strong vaccine for senior citizens

Dec. 9, 2013 - National Influenza Vaccination Week opened Sunday and seniors are prime targets of the campaign by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Senior citizens – age 65 and older – last year recorded the highest flu-related hospitalization rates since the CDC began tracking this information during the 2005-2006 flu season.

An estimated 60 percent of flu-related hospitalizations in the United States occur in this senior citizen age group. One of the latest weapon to help seniors fight the flu is a high-dose flu shot made and approved specifically for people 65 years of age and older. The CDC, however, says it has not determined if the stronger immune response results in greater protection for older adults. The CDC and its Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices have not expressed a preference for either vaccine.

Unfortunately, the burden of flu illness in people 65 and older was accompanied by reports that the flu vaccine did not work as well as expected to protect people in this age group against one particular flu virus last season. If that news left you asking yourself whether getting a flu vaccine this season is still worthwhile for people 65 and older, the answer is absolutely and unquestionably, “Yes!”

 

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There are plenty of reasons for people 65 and older to get a flu vaccination this year, and vaccination remains the first, best and most important step in protecting against flu illness and its complications.

For most people, getting the flu means feeling achy and feverish for a week or so, but for people 65 years and older, the flu can be much more serious. People in this age group are at high risk for severe flu illness and complications.

While the benefits of flu vaccination can vary – and this is particularly true in people 65 and older – studies show that vaccination can provide a range of benefits, including reducing flu illness, antibiotic use, doctor’s visits, lost work, and even helping to prevent hospitalizations and deaths.

A recent study by CDC and Vanderbilt University experts found that flu vaccination reduced the risk of flu-related hospitalization by nearly 77 percent in study participants 50 years of age and older during the 2011-2012 flu season.

Other studies have found that flu vaccination reduces the risk of death in older adults. For people with certain underlying heart conditions, several studies indicate that flu vaccination can reduce the risk of a heart attack. Overall, there is significant evidence to support the benefits of vaccination in people 65 and older.

Seniors need high-dose flu shot

If you are in this age group, there are two flu vaccine options available to choose from this season: the standard flu shot and a high-dose flu shot made and approved specifically for people 65 years of age and older.

The high-dose vaccine contains more antigen (the part of the vaccine that helps your body build up protection against flu viruses) than the regular flu shot, and this extra antigen is intended to produce a stronger immune response in seniors. CDC does not have a preference for which vaccine seniors should get this season.

“Either the regular flu shot or the high-dose vaccine are perfectly acceptable options for people 65 and older this season,” said Dr. Alicia Fry with CDC’s Influenza Division. “The important thing is to get vaccinated because it’s still the best protection currently available against the flu.”

Flu vaccine is offered in many locations. Use the vaccine finder at http://vaccine.healthmap.org/ to find a flu vaccination clinic near you. Medicare covers both flu and pneumonia vaccines with no co-pay or deductible. As part of the Affordable


What You Should Know and Do this Flu Season If You Are 65 Years and Older

It has been recognized for many years that people 65 years and older are at greater risk of serious complications from the flu compared with young, healthy adults. It's estimated that 90 percent of seasonal flu-related deaths and more than 60 percent of seasonal flu-related hospitalizations in the United States each year occur in people 65 years and older. This is because human immune defenses become weaker with age. So influenza can be a very serious disease for people 65 and older.

Actions To Take This Flu Season:

Get Your Flu Shot

The best way to prevent the flu is with a flu vaccine. Vaccination is especially important for people 65 years and older because they are at increased risk for complications from flu.

A flu vaccine protects against flu viruses that research indicates will be most common during the season. (See Vaccine Virus Selection for this season’s exact vaccine composition.) The vaccine has been updated for this season and immunity wanes over a year, so you should get vaccinated this year even if you were vaccinated last season. Immunity sets in about two weeks after vaccination.

People 65 years and older have two flu shots available to choose from - a regular dose flu vaccine or a newer flu vaccine designed for people 65 and older with a higher dose. The high dose vaccine is associated with a stronger immune response to vaccination. However, whether the stronger immune response results in greater protection against influenza illness in older adults is not yet known. The CDC and its Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices have not expressed a preference for either vaccine.

Practice good health habits including covering coughs, washing hands often, and avoiding people who are sick.

Seek medical advice quickly if you develop flu symptoms to see whether you might need medical evaluation or treatment with antiviral drugs. It's very important that antiviral drugs be used early to treat flu in people who are very sick with flu (for example, people who are in the hospital), and people who are sick with flu and have a greater chance of getting serious flu complications, like people 65 and older.

 

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