These symptoms are commonly known: fever, chills, a runny nose, headache, coughing, and fatigue. It’s the flu. With flu season in full swing, and due to continue through February, it is especially important for seniors to be aware of preventative measures to avoid contracting the flu, and what to do if it’s already taken hold.
A particularly tough strain is making the rounds this year, known as H3N2, and it is more dangerous to those over 65 than any other age group. Approximately two-thirds of the H3N2 strain is a mutated variety which is not included in the mixed strains in the flu shot. This means that even if someone has been vaccinated recently, they are still at risk, and it is a risk to be taken seriously. Flu season kills anywhere between 4,000 and 50,000 people in the United States according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Some typical suggestions for avoiding the flu are to avoid sick people, wash hands frequently, and cover the mouth when sneezing. For many seniors who live in assisted-living facilities or other group homes, it may not be so easy to simply “avoid” others who have become sick. Doorknobs and telephones can hold the virus, as well as the handles of shopping carts. Many people may be contagious without yet showing symptoms.
Others think they’ve kicked the illness when in fact they can still make others sick for up to five days. Good hygiene does do wonders however, when it comes to staving off the flu. Immediately washing hands after sneezing is a good idea, or after touching anything in public such as stairway railings.
In addition to getting a flu shot, there are also three flu drugs on the market which can help to prevent it. They are available in various forms; there is a pill under the brand name Tamiflu, an inhaled drug sold as Relenza, and an injected drug sold as Rapivab, all of which can be prescribed by a doctor. Treatment with these antivirals can prevent admittance to a hospital if taken early enough. These drugs must be taken within 48 hours of the onset of flu symptoms, and while helpful, should not be considered a replacement or substitute for a flu vaccination. Before administered, it is critical to consult a physician about the status of each senior’s health.
Many adults can come down with the flu, and while they may be laid up for a week, they have the “physiological reserve” necessary to fight the disease and resume daily activities not long after. The elderly are at a much higher risk of becoming sicker and for a longer time. Their bodies are not as strong in this respect as younger people. Knowing the symptoms of the flu is just as important as knowing how to avoid contracting it.
With the holidays here, seniors don’t want to miss spending time with their loved ones because they can’t get out of bed. Stay healthy, stay active.