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Posted: September 10, 2010

Keeping Seniors Healthy

Flu Season Is Around the Corner -- Time for That Flu Shot!

It's time for that pesky annual flu shot.

You can get the flu vaccine from your doctor, and at public health facilities, senior centers, pharmacies and supermarkets. Adults over 50 are prime candidates for the vaccine because the flu can be fatal for older people.

There are two types of vaccines: the injection, which is approved for people older than 6 months, including healthy people and those with chronic medical conditions, and the nasal-spray, which is approved for use in healthy people 2-49 years of age who are not pregnant.

The seasonal flu vaccine protects against three influenza viruses that research indicates will be most common during the upcoming season. The 2010-2011 flu vaccine will protect against 2009 H1N1, and two other influenza viruses (an H3N2 virus and an influenza B virus).

Flu season in the northern hemisphere can range from as early as October (that’s next month!) to as late as May. The peak month usually is February.

More than 200,000 flu victims are hospitalized annually in the United States. The death rate from flu ranges from 3,300 to almost 49,000 a year.

The flu strikes the elderly the hardest. About 90% of flu deaths in the 31 flu seasons between 1976  to 2007 occurred in people over age 65.

Flu is a contagious illness of the respiratory system caused by the influenza virus. Flu can lead to pneumonia, bronchitis, sinusitis, ear problems and dehydration.

Droplets from coughing and sneezing spread the flu. An adult with flu can infect others beginning one day before symptoms develop and up to five days after becoming sick. Children may spread flu for more than seven days.

The best way to combat the bug is to get the flu vaccine. You have to get inoculated annually because new vaccines are prepared every year to combat new versions of the virus.

When you battle the flu, you develop antibodies to the invading virus, but those antibodies don’t work on new strains. The vaccine does not prevent flu in all people; it works better in younger recipients than older ones.

[Personal note: I used to catch the flu every winter. About 10 years ago, I started getting the vaccine. I haven’t had the flu since!]

Contrary to rumor, you can’t catch the flu from the vaccine. The flu vaccine is not made from a live virus. The recovery time for the flu is about one to two weeks. However, in seniors, weakness may persist for a longer time.

The common scenario for flu is a sudden onset of symptoms, which include chills, fatigue, fever, cough, headache, sore throat, nasal congestion, muscle aches and appetite loss.

While nausea, vomiting and diarrhea can be related to the flu, these are rarely the primary flu symptoms. The flu is not a stomach or intestinal disease. The term “stomach flu” is inaccurate.

When symptoms strike, get to a doctor as soon as possible; the faster the better. There are prescription antiviral drugs to treat flu. Over-the-counter medicines can help relieve symptoms of the flu. You should also drink liquids to prevent dehydration, and sleep to bolster your immune system.


Fred Cicetti is a freelance writer who specializes in health. He has been writing professionally since 1963. Before he began freelancing, he was a reporter and columnist for three daily newspapers in New Jersey. He has written two published novels: Saltwater Taffy, and Local Angles. You can send your health-related questions to Fred at fred@healthygeezer.com.

© 2010 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.
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