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High Flu Activity Continues Nationwide

The Flu and Seniors

Seasonal influenza always takes the greatest toll on seniors, and this seems to be particularly true during seasons when the H3N2 strain is predominant, which is the case for this flu season. CDC estimates that 90% of flu-related deaths and as many as 60% of flu-related hospitalizations occur among people 65 and older.

As people age, their bodies may lose some ability to fight off flu infection. This is why it’s especially important for people 65 and older to get a flu shot, take preventive steps, and seek treatment quickly if they develop flu symptoms.

Flu Can Be Serious

Influenza, commonly called the "flu," is a contagious viral infection that affects the respiratory system—your nose, throat and lungs. Symptoms of the flu can include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some people may also have vomiting and diarrhea. Influenza is a serious disease that can lead to hospitalization and sometimes even death. Every flu season is different, and influenza infection can affect people differently.

Get a Flu Vaccine

The first and most important step in protecting yourself and your loved ones against the flu is to get a flu vaccination each year. If you haven’t gotten vaccinated yet, you should do so now. With very few exceptions, everyone 6 months of age and older should get an annual flu vaccine. Vaccination is especially important for people at high risk to decrease their likelihood of getting sick and possibly having serious illness. People at high risk of serious flu complications include young children, pregnant women, people with chronic health conditions (like asthma, diabetes or heart and lung disease), and people 65 years and older. Contacts and caretakers of high risk patients should be vaccinated too.

Flu vaccine may be harder to find now than it was earlier in the season. You may need to contact more than one provider (pharmacy, health department, or doctor) to find available vaccine. The flu vaccine locator may be helpful to you in your search.

Take Everyday Preventive Actions to Stop the Spread of Germs

Photo: Mom taking daughter's temperatureEveryday preventive actions are steps that people can take to help slow the spread of germs that cause respiratory illness, like flu. They are not a substitute for vaccination. These include the following personal and community actions:

  • Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
  • If you get sick with a respiratory illness, like flu, limit contact with others as possible. Stay home (or keep your child home) for at least 24 hours after fever is gone except to seek medical care or for other necessities. Fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.
  • If an outbreak of flu or another illness occurs, follow public health advice. This may include information about how to increase distance between people and other measures.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. This will block the spread of droplets from your mouth or nose that could contain germs.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.

Take Flu Antiviral Drugs if Your Doctor Prescribes Them

Flu Season Continues. What You Should Know Now.

The 2012-2013 influenza season started early and activity remains high in the United States. This may continue for some time. With that in mind, there are steps you can take to protect yourself and your family from the flu. CDC recommends a three-step approach to fighting influenza.

  1. Get a flu vaccine.
  2. Take everyday preventive actions to stop the spread of germs.
  3. Take flu antiviral drugs if your doctor prescribes them.

If you do get the flu, there are antiviral drugs that can treat your illness. They are a second line of defense, available only with a prescription. Antiviral drugs can make your illness milder and shorten the time you are sick. They are most effective when started within 2 days of getting sick, though starting them later can still be helpful, especially for those with high risk conditions.

Early treatment is especially important for people who are at high risk of flu complications. High risk patients – especially people 65 and older– should get medical attention promptly if they get flu-like symptoms, regardless of whether or not they got vaccinated. Treatment of high-risk people with suspected influenza should not wait for laboratory confirmation of influenza. A doctor will decide whether antiviral drugs are needed. For more information, see Treatment - Antiviral Drugs.

According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), some temporary shortages of the antiviral formula for children may occur this season, but there are options available. FDA is working hard to make sure that medicine to treat the flu and its symptoms is available for those who need it.

 

More Information

 

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  • Page last reviewed: January 29, 2013
  • Page last updated: February 8, 2013
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