Influenza, or the flu as it's more commonly known, is a viral illness that affects the respiratory system and can be easily spread from person to person.
Statistics for the 2015-2016 year from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention showed that the flu was contracted by 25 million people, hospitalized 310,000 and killed 12,000 within the United States (deaths from pneumonia were also included in that figure). Seniors over the age of 65 are at a particularly high risk of falling ill from the virus. The agency estimated that between 71 and 85 percent of all seasonal flu-related deaths and 54 to 70 percent of all seasonal flu related hospitalizations occur within the senior demographic.
However, during 2015-2016, the flu vaccine successfully prevented 5 million illnesses, over 2 million doctor visits and 71,000 hospitalizations. The vaccine can be highly effective in stopping the spread of the flu. Since seniors are so susceptible to the illness, it's important that they are knowledgeable about all things surrounding the illness and its vaccine so they can protect themselves during flu season.
Flu season and virus spreading
Flu season occurs during the time of year when the virus can travel from person to person with the most efficiency. Colder temperatures typically facilitate easier transfer and the season usually lasts from October to May, with its peak occurring between December and February. However, the CDC noted that the 2015-2016 season peaked in mid-March and was one of the latest peaks on record.
Symptoms of the flu include fever, body aches, severe coughing, runny nose, sore throat and fatigue. It's contracted when a healthy person encounters droplets of moisture contaminated with the virus. These droplets can travel through the air via coughing, sneezing and talking, or they can collect on an object touched by an infected person. Most people are relieved of all symptoms within a week of falling ill, but the virus can be spread up to a full day before any symptoms are present. Those infected can still pass the virus along for around seven days after their symptoms have passed.
Basics about the vaccine
The body loses some of its ability to fight illnesses as it ages. For seniors, this could mean they contract the flu more easily than people younger than them. The vaccine can be administered in one of two ways – via a shot into the muscle or a nasal spray.
For the 2016-2017 flu season, the CDC recommended only the shot be administered. The influenza virus changes often and vaccines must adapt with it. The CDC determined that the shot would be the most effective protection for this year.
The vaccine contains either dead or weakened versions of the virus known as antigens. When they enter the person, antigens create antibodies that fortify the immune system in preparation for influenza at full-strength.
There exist two comparable vaccines that are offered for people over 65. The Fluzone High Dose and FLUAD are both FDA-approved treatments that exceed the immune defense offered by standard vaccines. Fluzone High Dose has quadruple the amount of antigens found in ordinary vaccines for an increased immune response. FLUAD contains an additive called adjuvant MF59 that boosts the body's ability to fight the virus. The FDA does not recommend one vaccine over the other.
The virus found in vaccines cannot cause illness, but the shot may cause side effects at the site of injection such as aches, a low-grade fever, redness, soreness and swelling, according to the CDC.
Senior living communities can be greatly affected by the spread of influenza. If one resident contracts the flu, it could quickly spread throughout the community and jeopardize the wellbeing of many others. Even if flu season is already in effect, seniors that have not received the vaccination should still consider getting treatment to protect themselves and others from illness.