December 19, 2014

Elderly at a Much Greater Risk of Flu This Year

During most seasons, it is estimated that 90% of seasonal flu-related deaths and between 50 and 60% of seasonal flu-related hospitalizations in the US occur in people 65 years and older. Influenza can be a very serious disease for the elderly.This is because human immune defenses become weaker with age. So influenza can be a very serious disease for those of us 65 and older.

This year's flu season got off to an early start and predictions are that it will prove to be a big flu season, 

This Year’s Flu Vaccine Is Seriously Defective
Several viruses circulate during any given flu season. And flu viruses are always changing. Every three years we have a problem with the match between the vaccine and the strains in the current year’s virus.

The CDC announced recently that this year’s flu vaccine is missing a key strain, one that accounts for 48% of what’s circulating. That strain was discovered in March 2014, but the vaccine strains for the northern hemisphere, including the U.S., had been decided a month earlier. (The southern hemisphere vaccine will include this drain.)

Unfortunately, this strain that the vaccine missedm, historically has produced more serious illness. That means more will get complications, such as pneumonia, and require hospitalization and intensive care. And, unpredictably, building more deaths from the flu – – a toll that ranges widely from year to year, causing 3000 49,000 fatalities

So we face a double whammy—a rogue flu strain and it’s of the more severe type.

The Flu Vaccines Have Never Worked Very Effectively on the Elderly
According to the CDC, the flu vaccine reduces the odds of getting the flu by 70% to 90%. That statistic only applies to healthy adults. The efficacy of the vaccine on the elderly is much lower.

Some claim the government has buried a definitive study done a decade ago  because the science came down on the wrong side. It found that after decades and  billions of dollars spent promoting flu shots for the elderly, the mass vaccination program did not result in saving lives. In fact the death rate among the elderly increased substantially. Check out this CBS News video.

What Can We Do To Protect Ourselves?
Most authorities still recommend that you get your flu shot.  People who get the shot have better protection even where there is a mismatch. They often get a less severe case of the flu and they’re less likely to spread the flu to someone else.

People 65 years and older have two flu shots available to choose from -- a regular dose flu vaccine and a new flu vaccine with a higher dose designed for people 65 and older. When I initially heard about this, I was indignant that nobody had told me about this option. The my local CVS Minute Clinic nurse calmed me down by assuring me that they automatically give the higher dose to the elderly who come in for their free shot. (When you sign up for the shot , you are asked your age.) I assume other flu shot providers do the same.

If you come down with the flu, stay home. Don’t go out and contaminate others.

If you think you’re coming down with the flu, and you’ve heard that the flu is prevalent in your community, ask a doctor or other health care provider if you should be taking one of the two antiviral drugs approved for the flu – – Tamiflu or Relenza. The CVS nurse tells me Relenza can be hard to find.  Most people take Tamiflu.

These drugs can lower the risk of flu complications. But they need to be started within 48 hours of the first flu symptoms.

How do you know if you have the flu versus the common cold?

“Flu invariably gives you a fever, “ says  infectious disease specialist William Shafftner of Vanderbilt University. “You feel very crummy, weak, lose appetite, may have muscle aches and a dry, persistent cough. Beyond anything else, there is a sense that this is worse  than a common cold.”

The antivirals are especially important to those at high risk for flu complications. This includes those over 65: or have chronic health conditions such as asthma, diabetes, heart, lung or kidney diseases; poor pregnant women. Children under five, and especially those under two, are also at high risk

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