Answering your questions about the flu

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When the leaves start to fall and the weather starts to cool, the germs start to spread. Since October marks the start of the flu season, it’s important for older adults to understand how to best protect themselves from the flu this season.   

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), adults 65 years and older are at a higher risk for developing flu-related complications. It is estimated that approximately 50% to 70% of flu-related hospitalizations occur in this age group.

Additionally, if you get the flu, you might be more susceptible to other health conditions. According to the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, catching the flu increases your risk of a having a heart attack or stroke.

The CDC recommends that all adults over the age of 65 receive a flu vaccine in order to better protect themselves from the flu. However, it has been estimated that around 65% of seniors actually receive the flu vaccine. While that number is relatively high and climbs each year, it still leaves around 18 million seniors without protection from the flu.

To help you feel prepared this flu season, find the answers to commonly asked questions below, sourced from the CDC.

Common questions about the flu and flu vaccine

What is the difference between the cold and the flu?

While the common cold and the flu are both contagious illnesses, they are caused by different viruses. The flu is caused only by the influenza virus while the common cold can be caused by a large range of different viruses.

Additionally, the common cold is typically milder than the flu, having lighter symptoms like sneezing, coughing, stuffy nose and sore throat. The flu has more severe symptoms that require extended rest and medical care.

How do I know if I have the flu?

You may have the flu if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Fever
  • Runny nose
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Body aches
  • Chills
  • Headache
  • Extreme fatigue

If it is during the typical flu season (October-May) and you are experiencing a combination of these symptoms, it is best to visit your physician so they can recommend treatment.

What should I do if I get sick?

If you get sick with flu symptoms, it is important to rest and avoid contact with others, only leaving the house for medical care. If you belong to a high-risk group, such as those 65 years and older, it is important that you receive treatment as soon as possible. The CDC recommends high-risk people need antiviral treatment as soon as two days after illness onset to have the most effective result.

To avoid spreading the flu to others, stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone, without the help of fever-reducing medicine.

How effective are flu vaccinations in older adults?

According to the CDC, vaccination reduces the risk of flu-related complications by more than 60% among adults 65 years and older. Additionally, vaccinations reduced the risk of hospitalization in this age group by 33%.

Does the flu vaccine actually give me the flu?

The flu vaccine does not contain an infectious virus and it will not give you the flu. It is made up of either an inactivated virus or a particle designed to look like the flu virus. This works by tricking your immune system. You may feel flu-like symptoms after getting the vaccine due to your natural immune system’s response to building antibodies, but they will be milder and shorter-lasting than actual symptoms of the flu.

What are the side effects from the flu vaccine?

After receiving the flu vaccine, you may experience soreness or redness at the injection site, headache, fever, nausea or muscle aches. It is common to feel slight side effects from the flu vaccine, as you might expect with any medication or treatment. These effects are generally very mild and go away within a day or two.

Can I get the flu vaccine and the COVID-19 vaccine at the same time?

When the COVID-19 vaccine was originally created, physicians recommended to wait at least two weeks in-between vaccinations. However, the CDC guidance updated and physicians are now recommending to do what works best for you, as it is medically safe to receive both the flu shot and the COVID-19 vaccination on the same day.

Can I still get the flu if I am vaccinated against it?

Although the flu vaccine reduces your risk of catching the flu virus, it does not guarantee immunity. However, the CDC still recommends yearly vaccination since it is your best defense against the flu.

Getting the flu vaccine reduces your chance of catching the flu by 50% to 60% if you are between 18 and 64-years-old, and more than 60% among those older than 65.

When should I get vaccinated?

Flu season technically begins in October, however it lasts all the way into May. It is important to remember that as each month passes, your protection from the flu might reduce by around 10%. That being said, the CDC recommends receiving your vaccination no earlier than October and continuing vaccination throughout the season, if necessary. It is not recommend to get the vaccine in July or August.

Other common ways to protect yourself from the flu

Receiving the flu vaccine is the most effective way to protect yourself against the flu. However, practicing healthy habits in conjunction with the shot will give you the best outcome at avoiding getting sick.

In addition, if you are an older adult who is considered high-risk of getting the flu, your physician may recommend home health services to help you remain safe in the comfort of home.

The CDC recommends to take preventative actions such as:

  • Avoiding close contact with people who are sick
  • Limiting your contact with others if you are sick
  • Covering your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing
  • Washing your hands often with soap and water, or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer
  • Trying not to touch your eyes, nose or mouth without washing your hands first
  • Cleaning and disinfecting possibly contaminated surfaces
  • Door handles/knobs, bathroom surfaces, kitchen appliances, etc.

Stay safe this flu season by protecting yourself and others.

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