Summer is over and the nip of autumn is in the air. Soon the leaves will be turning, then falling. And even sooner, it will be time to get your annual flu shot. In the United States, flu season can begin as early as October and last into May.
People 65 and older are considered at high risk for getting the flu and developing complications. That’s because our immune systems weaken as we age. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimate that annually, people who are 65+ account for 90 percent of flu-related deaths and more than 60 percent of flu-related hospitalizations.
What’s in this year’s flu vaccine?
Every year new vaccines are developed to protect us against the influenza virus strains that health experts predict will be most common in the upcoming season. The way the vaccines work is they cause antibodies to develop in the body — about two weeks after getting a flu shot. The antibodies protect us against the strains that are in the vaccine.
Traditionally, flu shots have been made up of three viruses, two “A” strains and one “B” strain. It’s known as a trivalent vaccine. The specific mix depends on what seems to be circulating.
The following trivalent flu vaccines will be available this flu season:
- A standard flu shot approved for people 6 months and older
- An intradermal flu shot (injected into the skin instead of the muscle and using a smaller than usual needle) approved for people 18 – 64
- An egg-free flu shot approved for people 18-49
- A high dose flu shot approved for people 65 and older
A high-dose flu shot
The high-dose flu shot for people 65 and older was approved by the FDA in 2009. In addition to weaker immune systems, elderly people also tend to have a weaker response to the flu vaccine.
In August, the drug company that developed the high-dose vaccine announced preliminary results of a clinical trial in which more than 30,000 people over 65 were followed for two flu seasons. The company reported that the high dose vaccine was about 24 percent more effective at preventing the flu than the traditional vaccine. At this time, it is only recommended for people 65 and older. It is covered by Medicare, as are other versions of the vaccine.
An extra strain in some flu shots
This year, some vaccines will contain not only two “A” strains, but instead of just one “B” strain, there will be two. It’s called a quadrivalent vaccine.
The following quadrivalent flu vaccines will be available (although they may be hard to find):
- A standard flu shot approved for people ages 6 months and older
- A standard dose quadrivalent flu vaccine, given as a nasal spray, approved for healthy non-pregnant people 2 through 49 years of age
The nasal spray will all contain four strains. Because it uses a weakened version of live flu virus, the nasal spray is not recommended for everyone. Pregnant women, children or teens on an aspirin regimen, people with asthma or breathing problems, or people with weakened immune systems or chronic health conditions should not get the nasal spray.
Which vaccine is best for you?
The CDC says it does not recommend one flu vaccine over the other and encourages people to talk with their health care provider about the best option.
If you’d like to know which choices might be best for you, take a short quiz on the HealthMap Vaccine Finder.
How to stay healthy this flu season
While getting a flu shot is supposed to be the best defense against the flu, we’ve got some more prevention tips to help you keep flu (and cold) germs at bay.
- Wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands.
- Most infections are spread through sneezing and coughing or touching germ-laden surfaces and then touching your mouth, eyes or nose — super highways for nasty viruses.
- Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if you don’t have access to soap and water.
- Get plenty of sleep so your body has time to repair and heal itself and ward off infections.
- Exercise. Even if you can only do it sitting in a chair, it can help boost your immune system.
- Stay hydrated. Drink lots of water.
- Avoid alcohol because it suppresses your immune system.
- Stay away from other people who are sick.
- Eat a healthy diet.
- Manage your stress levels.
How Advantage Home Care Can Help
Many seniors have either lost the ability to drive or have made the decision not to get behind the wheel and must depend on others for transportation. Advantage Home Care offers transportation services, which include taking seniors to get their annual flu shots.
If you’d like more information about preventing the spread of flu and recognizing symptoms, read our previous blog post Common Sense Flu Advice for Elderly People.