People look forward to the fall season for many reasons — cooler weather, football, Thanksgiving, fall foliage (in some parts of the country), pumpkin pie, hockey and Halloween, to name a few.
However, fall ushers in the worst of the flu season, and getting a bad case of the flu can be especially dangerous for older adults. Why? Because their immune system may not be able to fight the flu virus as easily as when they were younger.
Fortunately, you can take precautions to avoid getting the flu. We’ll share the latest recommendations from health experts in this blog post. After all, we want you to be well enough to enjoy all the reasons you look forward to autumn!
Here in the U.S., flu season typically begins in late September and runs into spring. Sometimes the worst of it subsides by the end of March. In other years, it can persist into May.
Although peak flu season varies from year to year, records kept for nearly the last four decades indicate that February is most often the peak month, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Some years, the peak can be as early as December.
The best way to protect yourself from getting the flu is to get a flu shot.
Flu vaccines are different each year, and they are developed based on several criteria. For instance, national influenza centers all over the world monitor which flu viruses are making people sick in different parts of the globe. Laboratories and vaccine manufacturers use this data to develop vaccines that will offer the best protection against currently circulating strains of flu viruses.
Within about two weeks after you get vaccinated, your body will develop antibodies that provide protection against flu viruses.
Know that it’s possible to get the flu even if you are vaccinated — but if you do, you’ll most likely have a milder case. You may still need to seek treatment, but your odds of ending up in the hospital because of the flu are probably going to be considerably lower. Getting vaccinated can also help prevent the virus from spreading.
If you have concerns about getting a flu shot, talk them over with your doctor.
Unless there’s a shortage of flu vaccines, you should always be able to get a flu shot at your primary care doctor’s office.
Some local public health departments offer flu shot clinics during flu season, where you can get a low- or no-cost vaccination. Some counties provide mobile clinics. To find out when and where local health agencies are offering flu shots, try calling or searching online.
Most drugstore chains and pharmacies in major grocery stores offer flu shots as well.
If you have health insurance, including Medicare, it’s unlikely that you will need to pay the full cost of getting a flu vaccination.
Medicare or your Medicare Advantage health plan may cover the entire cost of your flu shot. Your doctor’s office or health insurer should be able to tell you whether you will have any out-of-pocket costs.
If you are younger than 65 or you’re not enrolled in Medicare, other health insurance coverage you have may cover all or part of the cost to get vaccinated. To find out, call the customer assistance number on your insurance card.
The full cost of a flu shot depends on the type of vaccine and can run anywhere from approximately $20 to more than $100 for the high-dose vaccines (see the next section).
If you don’t have health insurance, check to see if low-cost vaccinations are available for seniors in your area. More than likely, you’ll find a few options.
While several types of flu shots for seniors are available for the 2022-2023 flu season, the CDC adopted an advisory committee’s recommendation to “preferentially recommend the use of specific flu vaccines for adults 65 years and older, including higher dose and adjuvanted flu vaccines.”
The recommended vaccines are:
(Quadrivalent means the vaccines protect against four different flu viruses.)
The Fluzone high-dose vaccine has four times the amount of antigen (the substance that produces an immune response) as standard-dose vaccines. Flublok is a recombinant vaccine, which means the manufacturing process doesn’t involve use of the flu virus or chicken eggs. And Fluad is an adjuvanted vaccine, which means an extra ingredient is added to help promote a better immune response.
All three of these vaccines have been shown in studies to potentially be more effective than standard-dose, unadjuvanted flu vaccines in seniors. If they aren’t available, then the CDC recommends getting a standard-dose flu vaccine.
The Fluzone high-dose and Fluad vaccines are only available to adults who are 65 or older. The CDC notes that both vaccines may result in more of the temporary, mild side effects that sometimes occur with standard-dose flu shots. These include pain, redness or swelling at the site of injection, headache, muscle aches and malaise. The side effects usually resolve within 1 to 3 days, according to the CDC.
Anyone who is at least 18 years old can request Flublok, the recombinant vaccine. (Not all providers will have all of the vaccines.)
Older adults usually have a weaker immune response to flu vaccines (at least the standard-dose, unadjuvanted vaccines) when compared with younger people who are healthy. And, immunity appears to wane more quickly in seniors.
For these reasons, the CDC recommends against getting a flu shot too early in the year (e.g., July or August) if you’re 65 or older.
September and October are good months for seniors to get vaccinated. That provides enough time before the high flu season sets in for antibodies to develop, and the protection the vaccine provides is less likely to wane before the worst of flu season is over.
If the flu starts circulating in your area earlier than September and October, however, it may be a good idea to go ahead and get vaccinated. Your doctor can advise you on the best timing.
While different types of viruses cause the flu and COVID-19, many of the symptoms are the same:
(Not everyone who’s infected will have all of these symptoms.)
COVID-19 is more contagious than the flu and has the potential to cause more serious illness, though both can be deadly. Both can also lead to hospitalization, particularly for older adults.
Because it can be difficult to tell which type of infection you have based solely on symptoms, testing is the best way to confirm a diagnosis. Tests are available that check for both the flu viruses and the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. It’s possible to have both illnesses at the same time.
A flu shot will not protect you against COVID-19, and getting vaccinated for COVID-19 will not protect you from getting the flu.
The best way to protect yourself against both types of illness is to get a flu shot and get vaccinated (and boosted) against COVID-19. If enough time has passed since you received a previous COVID-19 vaccination or booster shot, then you can get both vaccinations at the same time.
If you have safety concerns, your doctor can help you decide your best course of action.
You can take all of the precautions — getting vaccinated, avoiding people who have the flu, washing your hands frequently and even wearing a mask — and you might still catch the flu. Then what?
As an older adult, you’re at higher risk of serious illness and complications, including pneumonia. That means you’re also at higher risk of being hospitalized with, or dying from, the flu.
If you start having symptoms, contact your doctor or health care provider right away. Antiviral drugs are available that can:
These drugs require a prescription, and they work best if you begin taking them within 48 hours after symptoms first appear.
Our Zenergy Healthy Lifestyle Program is designed to help residents at The Variel live well, feel well and be well. It encompasses life-enhancing activities for seniors, exercise, nutrition, lifelong learning, social opportunities and more.
Residents can take advantage of this uplifting, holistic approach to wellness to strengthen their immune system during flu season and throughout the year. It’s also a highly effective way to feel more confident, optimistic and motivated.
If you’re exploring retirement communities in California, we encourage you to take a look at Zenergy and the entire range of services we offer, including assisted living. Then, if you’re interested in learning more, you can take the next step and contact us.