Dear Savvy Senior,
As a healthcare specialist who works with the elderly, it's that time of year again where we remind folks to get their annual flu shot. Yet many seniors -- more men than women -- still don't get one. A flu shot is a great preventive measure that may just save their life or save them thousands of dollars in hospitalization and treatment. Can you inform your readers about influenza and the significance of getting a flu shot?
I sure can! The flu, which is short for influenza, is an infection, caused by viruses, that affects your lungs. Not only does the flu make you feel awful with fever, chills, body aches, cough and sometimes a sore throat or runny nose, it can be very dangerous, especially if you're older.
The single best way to prevent the flu is to get a flu shot every fall. The flu shot is a vaccine that contains three influenza strains recommended for that year. The viruses in the flu shot are inactive (meaning they are dead) so you can't get the flu from a flu shot. Here are some other flu facts you should know about:
* Every year in the United States, about 114,000 people have to be hospitalized because of the flu, and around 36,000 people die because of it, most of whom are over age 65.
* A flu shots doesn't give you a 100 percent guarantee that you won't get the flu. But if you do, you won't get as sick as you would without it.
* Flu vaccines should be given every year because flu viruses change all the time and because antibody protection decreases over time.
* The best time to get vaccinated is from October through November. Flu season in the United States generally peaks between late December and early March.
* Antiviral prescription medications can also be used to prevent the flu.
* Healthy people under age 50 can now choose to take the flu vaccine as a nasal spray mist, rather than a shot in the arm.
Side effects from the flu shot are minor for most people. Some soreness or swelling may occur where the shot is given. But between 5 and 10 percent experience mild side effects like headaches, a low-grade fever or achiness which usually last for about a day after the vaccination.
Flu shot alert
If you have had any of the following problems, you should not get a flu shot before talking with your doctor:
* Had a severe reaction to a flu shot in the past.
* Ever had a severe allergic reaction to eggs.
* Have a history of Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS).
Where to go
You can get a flu shot at your doctor's office or a local clinic. Medicare Part B pays for flu vaccinations, but even if you're not covered there are plenty of places that offer free flu shots. If you are not sure where to get a flu shot in your area, call your county health department or call the CDC hotline at 1-800-232-2522.
Savvy Resources* Centers For Disease Control And Prevention: Offers information on preventing and controlling the flu, and what to do if you get sick. Visit www.cdc.gov/flu.
* National Immunization Program: Provides vast information on immunization activities and programs nationwide. Visit www.cdc.gov.nip.
Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit www.savvysenior.org.