Although flu season typically starts in mid-October, physicians say it’s never too late to be vaccinated — particularly for those at greatest risk for suffering from complications from the flu.
Flu season begins in the fall and can last through the spring. Doctors recommend being vaccinated before the onset of flu season, but if you have forgotten your shot, you can still be immunized in December or January.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says it takes about two weeks for the body to develop an immune response after a vaccination. The agency particularly recommends immunization for those individuals at highest risk of complications from the flu. This includes people over the age of 65 and those with chronic health conditions such as heart, lung, or kidney disease, or a weakened immune system.
The CDC estimates 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.”
Dr. Mark Lachs, director of geriatrics at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital, says :
Adults age 65 and older face the greatest risk of serious complications and even death as a result of influenza. That is why it is so important that they get immunized. Even when older adults contract the flu after immunization, which can happen, those cases tend to be less severe and of shorter duration.
There are two different vaccines available to seniors this year, notes the CDC. One is a regular-dose flu vaccine; the other is specifically designed for people 65 and older with a higher dose.
“The high dose vaccine is associated with a stronger immune response to vaccination,” according to the CDC. But the agency adds that “whether the stronger immune response results in greater protection against influenza illness in older adults is not yet known.”
The following groups should be immunized against the flu every year:
- Children beginning at 6 months of age
- Pregnant women
- People 50 years of age and older
- People of any age with certain chronic medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and any form of immunosuppressive illness
- People who live in nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
Physicians say it is extremely important for those living with or caring for individuals who are at high risk for complications from flu to be vaccinated. This includes not only health care providers, but also other individuals who may come into contact with the household, especially those who may have children less than six months of age, who are too young to be vaccinated.
You can prevent the possibility of becoming ill by taking some simple precautions. Cover your coughs and ask others around you to do the same. Wash your hands often and thoroughly as needed. Also, avoid people who are sick. There are those who may be infected with the flu and have respiratory symptoms, but they may not have a fever.
Know the symptoms of the flu and get medical advice or attention. Flu symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills, and fatigue. Some individuals may experience vomiting and diarrhea.
For more information about staying healthy during flu season, check with your health care provider or primary care physician.
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