According to National Vital Statistics Reports, influenza, and the pneumonia that is often associated with it, was the 8th leading cause of death in the U.S. in 2017.
Yet, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that during the 2018-2019 flu season, just 45 percent of U.S. adults received the flu vaccine. The CDC further reported that approximately 26 million people could get the flu in any given year.
Senior adults are particularly susceptible to the flu due to their weakened immune systems. The CDC also states that between 70 and 85 percent of seasonal flu-related deaths occur in people age 65 or older.
But there now are vaccines that provide additional protective benefits from the flu for senior adults. One such vaccine is called Fluzone High-Dose.
Fluzone High-Dose Vaccine
The New England Journal of Medicine published a study showing that Fluzone High-Dose vaccine was 24.2 percent more effective in flu-prevention in people 65 and older than the standard-dose vaccine.
According to Michelle Glass, Corporate Vice President, Senior Living and In-Home Services, Bethesda is offering Fluzone High-Dose vaccinations to all of its senior residents. A standard flu vaccine is also mandatory for all Bethesda staff, corporate personnel, and outside contractors unless they have a medical or religious exemption to receiving the vaccine.
The primary emphasis for Bethesda is through the month of October for the vaccinations, but they will be offered to residents through May of 2020, depending upon vaccine availability. Vaccinations for employees will run through March.
How Does Fluzone Work?
Because senior adults have weakened immune systems, their bodies do not respond as effectively to standard flu vaccines. High-Dose Fluzone contains four times the antigens—the part of the vaccine that boosts protection from the disease—than the standard flu shot.
It is showing marked improvements in preventing the flu or diminishing its impact on seniors. There were not only decreased flu-related deaths, but also fewer ICU admissions and shorter lengths of stay for hospitalized people over the age of 65. This decreased need for care saves money, and it also lessens the chance for contracting hospital-acquired infections.
Cost of the High-Dose Vaccine
According to Michelle, the High-Dose Fluzone vaccine is approximately three times more expensive than the standard flu vaccine. However, Medicare and Medicare B plans cover the entire cost. Other managed care plans may or may not. Seniors should check with their plan administrator for coverage details.
A “Remarkable Difference”
Lynn Licklider, RN, Bethesda Corporate Director of Clinical Services, says the results have demonstrated “a remarkable improvement in effectiveness for senior adults.”
She also notes that studies show only a slight increase in minor adverse reactions to the High-Dose Fluzone vaccine, including redness around the injection site and muscle soreness.
Other Flu-Prevention Tips
In addition to getting vaccinated, people can reduce their chances for contracting or spreading the flu by following these flu-prevention tips:
- Cover your mouth when you cough
- Frequently wash your hands
- Eliminate contact with people who are ill
Lynn says Bethesda posts flu-prevention signs in its communities asking visitors to avoid visiting loved ones if they are suffering from flu-like symptoms. The concern is that flu in senior adults can result in fatal cases of pneumonia. Bethesda staff are also instructed and encouraged in the practice of hygiene precautions.
And people 65 and older should talk to their doctor about a pneumococcal vaccination against diseases such as pneumonia, meningitis, and blood stream infections.
Well before each flu season, researchers have to determine what viruses they will be battling. That’s why annual vaccination is a must for flu-prevention. What worked in the previous year will not be effective in the current one.
One persistent myth that causes many people to avoid flu vaccinations is the belief that the vaccination can cause the flu. This is not true. The virus in the vaccine is inactive, and it cannot transmit the disease. People may feel the effects of their body mounting an immune response, but it doesn’t mean they have the flu.
The flu is a serious infection of the respiratory system that can result in hospitalization or death, and flu vaccinations prevent millions of flu-related illnesses and deaths.
Do I Have the Flu?
According to WebMD, flu symptoms come on suddenly, unlike a cold, and may include a fever (which might not happen with a cold). Other symptoms may include:
- Severe aches in muscles and joints
- Pain and tiredness around your eyes
- Weakness or extreme fatigue
- Warm, flushed skin and red, watery eyes
- Dry cough
- Sore throat and runny nose
Symptoms your illness may be severe may include:
- Trouble breathing or shortness of breath
- Pain or pressure in your chest or belly
- Sudden dizziness
- Severe vomiting
What To Do if You Have the Flu
The flu is not something to be treated lightly. If you know or suspect you have the flu, call your doctor right away. There are antiviral drugs to treat it and prevent serious complications. Quick treatment is particularly important for people age 65 and older.