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Flu Shot 101: What Seniors Should Know

October 4, 2016

Flu Shot 101: What Seniors Should Know
The influenza virus, more commonly known as the flu, is responsible for seasonal illnesses in people of all ages every year. During flu season, taking necessary steps to stay healthy can sometimes mean the difference between life and death.

There seems to be no shortage of misinformation and bad advice, however, when it comes to dealing with the flu. It is a good example of how medical myths can get in the way of good medical care.

Fact: Seniors Are More Susceptible to the Flu
For people 65 years and older, there is a greater risk of serious complications from the flu because our immune systems become weaker with age. While the severity of the illness can vary each flu season, in most cases, older people bear the greatest burden.

The Centers For Disease Control reports that while anyone, at any age, can become sick with the flu, seniors aged 65 years and older ”are among those groups of people who are at high risk of serious flu complications, possibly requiring hospitalization and sometimes resulting in death.”
Myth: The Flu Shot Can’t Prevent the Flu
In recent years, seniors accounted for between 80-90% of seasonal flu-related deaths and between 50-70% of seasonal flu-related hospitalizations. Many people seem to think that because there are so many different strains of the flu virus, the flu shot will not prevent you from getting sick. 

Each year, however, flu vaccines are updated to keep up with changing viruses. While it’s true that the virus does mutate each year, it is also true that getting vaccinated every year is important. The flu vaccine will help ensure you have immunity against the strains most likely to cause an outbreak.

Fact: Medicare Covers the Cost of Your Flu Shot
Medicare began covering annual influenza immunizations in 1993 for all Medicare beneficiaries. Medicare covers both the costs of the vaccine and its administration by recognized providers. There is no co-insurance or co-payment applied to this benefit, and a beneficiary does not have to meet his or her deductible to receive the vaccine.

Myth: The Flu Vaccine Will Make You Sick
There is a school of thought that the shot can actually cause you to get the flu, but this is false. A flu shot cannot cause flu illness. Flu vaccines given with a needle are currently made in two ways:
  • The vaccine is made either with flu vaccine viruses that have been 'inactivated' and are therefore not infectious
  • The vaccine is actually made with no flu vaccine viruses at all, which is the case for recombinant influenza vaccine
People who get sick after receiving a flu vaccination were going to get sick anyway. It takes a week or two to get protection from the vaccine. But people assume that because they got sick after getting the vaccine, the shot caused their illness.

Myth: Feed a Cold, Starve a Fever
If you have the flu, or even just a cold, and are feeling feverish, halting your intake of food and drink can actually do more harm than good. Your body actually requires more fluids when you have a fever.
There's little reason to increase or decrease how much you eat. Though you may have no appetite, starving yourself will accomplish little since poor nutrition will not help you get better. Hot liquids can soothe a sore throat and provide much needed fluids at the same time.

Fact: Getting Vaccinated is the Safe Choice                   
Flu can be a serious illness, particularly among young children, older adults, and people with certain chronic health conditions, including asthma, heart disease or diabetes. Any flu infection can carry a risk of serious complications, hospitalization or death, even among otherwise healthy children and adults. Therefore, getting vaccinated is a safer choice than risking illness to obtain immune protection. 
It's true that the flu vaccination is routinely recommended for people who have a chronic illness. But anyone--even healthy people--can benefit from being vaccinated. Current guidelines suggest that children ages 6 months to 19 years old, pregnant women, and anyone over age 49 be vaccinated each year. In addition, the flu shot is recommended for healthy people who might spread the virus to others who are particularly vulnerable.
For this reason, healthcare workers and caregivers are routinely advised to get the flu vaccine.

Stay Healthy This Winter
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