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. During most seasons, it's estimated that 90 percent of seasonal flu-related deaths and between 50 and 60 percent of seasonal flu-related hospitalizations in the United States occur in people 65 years and older (Kostova/Reed models). 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. CDC recommends that everyone 6 months of age and older get a seasonal flu vaccine soon after it becomes available in your community, ideally by October. Vaccination is especially important for people 65 years and older because they are at high risk for complications from flu.
A flu vaccine protects against the flu viruses that research indicates will be most common during the upcoming 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 and 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 (higher antibody production). Whether or not the improved immune response translated into greater protection against flu disease has been the topic of ongoing research. A recent study published in The New England Journal of Medicine indicated that the high-dose vaccine was 24.2% more effective in preventing flu in adults 65 years of age and older relative to a standard-dose vaccine. (The confidence interval for this result was 9.7% to 36.5%). The CDC and its Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices have not expressed a preference for either vaccine. These new findings will be considered along with other available data in ACIP's future policy deliberations.
- 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 (see box for full list of high risk persons/conditions).
Flu symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some people may also have vomiting and diarrhea. People may be infected with the flu and have respiratory symptoms without a fever.
- Influenza vaccination of health care providers in long-term care: Letter from the Assistant Secretary for Health [121 KB, 2 pages]
- People at High Risk of Developing Flu–Related Complications
- CDC Healthy Aging Website
- Treating Influenza (Flu) [693 KB, 2 pages, 8 ½" x 11"]
- Influenza and Pneumonia Vaccination in Older Adults
- NEJM: Efficacy of High-Dose versus Standard-Dose Influenza Vaccine in Older Adults
- Page last reviewed: September 3, 2014
- Page last updated: September 3, 2014
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