Is the flu dangerous for older adults? For many, the flu virus means lying on the couch for a week or more, shivering, aching, coughing, feverish, lethargic, and weak. For others, it means an extended stay in the hospital’s ICU if not death. Age, without a doubt, is a factor in determining the severity of the case.
Every season varies in terms of the severity and duration of the virus. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), the flu’s peak activity falls between December and February but can start as early as October and last until May.
The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by the influenza virus, affecting the airways of the nose, throat, and lungs. Different from the cold virus which appears slowly, the flu virus arrives abruptly causing achiness, fever, headaches, and chest discomfort in addition to the standard cold symptoms. For those sixty-five years and older, with weaker immune systems, the flu can progress to pneumonia. Inflammation of the heart (myocarditis), brain (encephalitis) or muscle (myositis, rhabdomyolysis) tissues, and multi-organ failure are other significant complications that can be triggered by the flu in at-risk patients. Residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities are also at higher risk for medical complications.
The best way to treat the flu is to prevent it.
Vaccinating from age six months and up is the number one method of prevention. It is especially important for those at higher risk including older adults over sixty-five years as well as individuals with certain chronic illnesses. Even if the flu season has begun, experts still recommend receiving the vaccination. Vaccines are given by doctors, urgent care clinics, and pharmacies.
Because the flu is contagious and spread through coughing, sneezing, and unclean hands, handwashing with soap or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer is important in stopping the spread of germs. Of course, avoiding close contact with sick people is key to remaining healthy.
If you experience flu symptoms, it’s critical to visit your doctor immediately. If the visit is within forty-eight hours of onset, the doctor may prescribe antiviral drugs which can reduce the severity and duration of the flu. This is essential for older adults.
While many factors can affect the severity and duration of the flu, older adults and caregivers should be vigilant in establishing safety measures to prevent onset. If symptoms appear, early treatment is most effective.