There are a number of important occurrences associated with the month of October. It’s the start of Medicare open enrollment. It’s the climactic month of the baseball playoffs. And it’s traditionally the month when every neighborhood pharmacy puts out the signs saying, “Flu Shots Available Here.” Yes, October marks the start of what is usually called flu season, and unless your doctor has advised you otherwise, it’s a good month to roll up your sleeve and get that flu shot. If you skip it, you could be putting yourself and others at risk.
It’s Definitely Not Too Early to Get Your Flu Shot
In researching this topic we looked at a few recent articles about the flu season and the flu shot, including this one from CNN. “The aches, the sneezing, the sore throat, the exhaustion – flu season is here and you want to be prepared,” the article begins. According to CNN, although we’re at the very start of flu season, there have already been flu-related deaths reported, so doctors are advising that it’s definitely not too early to get immunized. Pharmacies and doctor’s offices around the country are stocking up, and many employers who offer free or low-cost shots to employees have their “flu shot day” scheduled this month.
Although doctors say the time for vaccination is now, people still often ask whether it’s better to wait. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says don’t wait too long: it recommends getting vaccinated before the end of October, if possible, and definitely well before Thanksgiving. It takes about two weeks for the body to build up immunity once you get the flu vaccine, and with the holidays typically bringing more people together in close quarters, the earlier you get the shot the more protected you’ll be.
Last Year’s Flu Season Claimed 61,000 Lives, Most of Them Seniors
Last year’s flu season, says CNN, was moderately severe but unusually long, lasting from October 2018 into May 2019 – the longest in a decade. CDC estimates that there were almost 43 million cases of flu during that eight-month period, resulting in close to 647,000 hospitalizations. More than 61,000 deaths due to influenza were reported, by far the majority of whom were seniors. Also, according to the CNN article, 2018-2019 was, in the words of one doctor, a “double-barrel” flu season in which one virus dominated early on only to be replaced later in the season by another strain. This year’s outlook is tough to predict, experts say, but even a relatively mild flu season is potentially deadly for seniors, especially those with chronic health problems who are particularly vulnerable to flu’s worst symptoms. Doctors recommend that everyone older than 6 months should be vaccinated every year.
But are Americans heeding the call and rolling up their sleeves? Not as readily as you might expect. A few weeks ago CNN ran this article reporting that only about half of Americans plan to get a flu shot this year. “Here’s why that’s a problem,” the article went on. “It’s not a perfect vaccine because there are a number of flu strains that circulate, but it does provide some protection. If you happen to get sick, the vaccine cuts down on how long your symptoms last and it should protect you from the major complications that come with the flu, such as pneumonia.” There’s even evidence, as we reported early last year on the AgingOptions blog, that getting your shot every year actually has a cumulative effect, increasing your level of protection from whatever virus pops up each flu season. No flu shot is perfect, but getting immunized improves the odds that you’ll stay healthy.
When You Get Your Flu Shot, Find Out if a Stronger Dose is Right for You
For those with a chronic disease such as diabetes or asthma or heart disease, the flu shot is imperative, health experts insist. If your health is already impaired, “you are the kind of patient that the flu makes very sick,” says CNN, “and you are at highest risk for hospitalization and death. The flu can also put you more at risk to have a heart attack or a stroke.” There are two different types of flu shots in 2019 that are specifically formulated for seniors. These heavy-duty vaccines, called Fluzone High-Dose and FLUAD, are FDA-approved and are designed to offer extra protection beyond what a standard flu shot provides. This can be important for older adults with weaker immune systems, but the side effects are somewhat more noticeable than those associated with the standard-dose shot. As always, talk to your doctor and follow his or her recommendation.
Vaccines are important, but healthcare advocates remind all of us not to overlook the basics when it comes to avoiding the flu. Wash your hands frequently because flu germs tend to linger on contaminated surfaces. If friends and family members are sick, it’s okay to avoid them unless you’re responsible for their care. Also, for the sake of co-workers and fellow students, stay home from work or school if you are feeling ill. No one likes the martyr who comes to work feeling lousy and insists on sharing germs with everyone else! You need the rest, and the people around you need you to keep your germs to yourself.
Common Sense Means Taking Precautions and Planning Ahead
To us at AgingOptions, this article is one more reminder how important it is for seniors to get good, solid, age-appropriate medical advice. We strongly advise that older patients seek out the services of a geriatrician, someone trained in senior health needs. A geriatrician will take the time to get to know you, answer your questions, and give you medical advice that is right for your age and circumstances – the exact opposite of the “cookie cutter medicine” all too common today. If you’ll contact us at AgingOptions we will gladly refer you to a geriatrician in your area.
What about “good medicine” for your retirement plan? Here, too, it’s vital that you work with someone who will take the time to listen to you and get to know your circumstances – not someone who will suggest a one-size-fits-all approach that may seem suitable today but is sure to prove dangerously inadequate in the future when health concerns loom and housing plans become unsustainable. At AgingOptions we call our comprehensive retirement planning approach LifePlanning, and we invite you to join Rajiv Nagaich at a free seminar where you can get the facts about this retirement breakthrough for yourself. We offer these LifePlanning Seminars at locations throughout the Puget Sound region, and we would love to have you join us. For dates, times and locations, click here to visit our Live Events page. Then register online or call us during the week. These LifePlanning Seminars can fill up fast, so why not register today? It will be our pleasure to meet you.
(originally reported at www.CNN.com)