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What is Influenza (also called Flu)?

The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. The best way to prevent the flu is by getting a flu vaccination each fall.

Every year in the United States, on average:

  • 5% to 20% of the population gets the flu;
  • more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from flu complications, and;
  • about 36,000 people die from flu.

Some people, such as older people, young children, and people with certain health conditions, are at high risk for serious flu complications.

Symptoms of Flu

Symptoms of flu include:

  • fever (usually high)
  • headache
  • extreme tiredness
  • dry cough
  • sore throat
  • runny or stuffy nose
  • muscle aches
  • Stomach symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, also can occur but are more common in children than adults


Complications of Flu

Complications of flu can include bacterial pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections, dehydration, and worsening of chronic medical conditions, such as congestive heart failure, asthma, or diabetes.


Risks For Elderly People Who Have The Flu

Influenza, also known as the flu, is a dangerous disease that causes hundreds of thousands of deaths a year, and millions of hospitalizations all over the world. The flu is caused by viruses that infect the respiratory system - usually the nose, throat, and lungs. In younger people, the flu is usually not deadly, although it can be quite unpleasant and inconvenient. In older people, however, the flu takes on a more sinister dimension.

It is an open secret that most elderly people have weaker immune systems than their younger counterparts. This is part of the natural progression of life. As the human body ages, many of its parts begin to suffer wear and tear. While young, a human can be quite resistant to a host of diseases; once older, however, he or she becomes much more susceptible to illness.

Making Life Difficult

The flu causes many symptoms to appear that the elderly simply do not need. Life for the elderly is hard enough without having to deal with symptoms of fatigue, light-headedness, fever, muscle aches or what not. When an elderly person (say, above 65) is infected, he or she stands a real chance of dying from the disease. About 60,000 people die of flu in the United States in an average year - half of those are people above 65 years. In other words, the older you get, the greater the risk of succumbing to the effects of the flu.

It's not simply the flu and its many symptoms that can kill the elderly. It can also cause many complications that will make other conditions worse. Chronic problems such as those involving the heart, lungs and kidneys will often be predicated, or exacerbated, by the presence of influenza. For instance, about fifty percent of people of elderly people who get the flu also develop respiratory infections. A condition like emphysema, when added with influenza, can spell death for an elderly patient.

Preventing the Illness

The best way to prevent an onset of influenza is to get a flu shot. A large percentage of influenza infections and deaths can be prevented by an annual flu shot. Fortunately enough, many insurance plans cover such a yearly procedure. There is a reason for this. As mentioned before, the elderly are much more vulnerable to the effects of the flu; therefore it is imperative that they get a shot each year.

Ironically enough, while they need the flu shot more acutely, vaccination is less effective in older people than it is with younger ones. However, it still reduces hospitalization rates by about 70 percent and the chances of death by around 80 percent. This is a significant percentage, and therefore should not be ignored. There is absolutely no logical reason why an elderly person should not get a flu shot each year. All elderly people must also be in constant communication with their doctors with regards to flu, as well as any complications that might be worsened by the illness.

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Who Should Get Vaccinated?

In general, anyone who wants to reduce their chances of getting the flu can get vaccinated. However, certain people should get vaccinated each year either because they are at high risk of having serious flu-related complications or because they live with or care for high risk persons. During flu seasons when vaccine supplies are limited or delayed, ACIP makes recommendations regarding priority groups for vaccination.

People who should get vaccinated each year are:

1. People at high risk for complications from the flu, including:

  • Children aged 6–59 months of age,
  • Pregnant women,
  • People 50 years of age and older,
  • People of any age with certain chronic medical conditions, and
  • People who live in nursing homes and other long term care facilities.

2. People who live with or care for those at high risk for complications from flu, including:

  • Household contacts of persons at high risk for complications from the flu (see above)
  • Household contacts and out of home caregivers of children less than 6 months of age (these children are too young to be vaccinated)
  • Health care workers.

3. Anyone who wants to decrease their risk of influenza.


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