Older adults among those at greater risk for serious complications from influenza
Editorial by New York State Office for the Aging
New York State Office for the Aging Acting Director Greg Olsen reminds older New Yorkers about the importance of getting their flu vaccination as soon as possible. "Flu season" in the U.S. can begin as early as October and last as late as May. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends everyone 6 months of age and older, particularly those at greater risk, get their annual flu vaccine by the end of October, if possible.
Influenza symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some people may also have vomiting and diarrhea. People infected with the flu may also have respiratory symptoms without a fever. The flu can cause mild to severe illness. Adults aged 65 years and older, people with certain chronic medical conditions, young children and pregnant women are among those who are at highest risk of serious flu complications, possibly requiring hospitalization and sometimes resulting in death.
"The best way to protect against the flu is to get an annual flu shot," Olsen said. "Our immune systems are more easily compromised as we age, and older adults, especially those with chronic health conditions, have an increased risk of developing serious complications from the flu. Getting the flu vaccine helps prevent the spread of the virus and offers vital protection for older adults and their caregivers."
"Getting a flu shot is essential to staying healthy during the colder months, when the flu virus is most active," said Commissioner of Health Dr. Howard Zucker. "We urge all New Yorkers to get an annual flu shot, but especially older adults, who are at greater risk for serious illness."
Federal health officials have noted fewer older adults have been getting vaccinated each year. According to the CDC, about 45 percent of the U.S. population got vaccinated against the virus last year, down 1.5 percent overall from the previous year. Vaccinations among people ages 50 and older decreased by more than 3 percent. The CDC also reports a study conducted in 2016 showed those people 50 years and older who got a flu vaccine reduced their risk of getting hospitalized from flu by 57 percent.
The CDC recommends the following actions for older adults:
•Get your annual flu shot by the end of October, if possible. However, as long as flu viruses are circulating, vaccination should continue throughout flu season, even in January or later.
•Practice good health habits, including covering coughs, washing hands often, and avoiding people who are sick.
•Seek medical advice quickly if you develop flu symptoms to see whether you might need medical evaluation or treatment with antiviral drugs. It's very important that antiviral drugs be used early to treat flu in people who are very sick with flu (for example, people who are in the hospital), and people who are sick with flu and have a greater chance of getting serious flu complications (like people 65 and older). A full list of high risk factors is available at "People at High Risk of Developing Flu-Related Complications."
•Get pneumococcal vaccines. People ages 65 years and older should also be up to date with pneumococcal vaccination to protect against pneumococcal disease, such as pneumonia, meningitis and bloodstream infections. Talk to your doctor to find out which pneumococcal vaccines are recommended for you.
For more information on the flu and flu vaccine clinics in New York, visit the State Department of Health: www.health.ny.gov/diseases/communicable/influenza/seasonal/what_everyone_should_know.htm.
About the New York State Office for the Aging
The mission of the New York State Office for the Aging is to help older New Yorkers be as independent as possible for as long as possible through advocacy, development and delivery of person-centered, consumer-oriented and cost-effective policies, programs and services that support and empower older adults and their families, in partnership with the network of public and private organizations that serve them. For information about the New York State Office for the Aging, visit the NYSOFA Facebook page; follow @NYSAGING on Twitter; or visit www.aging.ny.gov.