If you're over 60, you're probably like many of my patients - healthy, active, and having the time of your life. Maybe you're nearing retirement, or you're already enjoying traveling, playing golf, and a second home in a sunny climate.
Nothing can stop you, which is why doing what you can to prevent getting sick is a priority. And with flu season in full swing, there's no better time to have this important conversation. Here's what I tell my patients and what I want you to know, too.
Your immunity is weak. It's just one of those things that happen as we age, like wrinkles or achy joints. So even if you're healthy and feel better than you ever have, your immune system isn't working as well as it did years ago, so you're more likely to get the flu.
If you do get the flu, you could end up in the hospital. Since your immune system is already vulnerable, you won't be able to handle viruses as well as you did when you were younger. So not only is the flu much more dangerous for you, but it could land you in the hospital. Even more shocking, 90 percent of all flu-related deaths happen in people 60 years old and older, according to a recent review in the journal The Lancet Infectious Diseases.
The holidays are prime time to get the flu. Your grandchildren are walking germ magnets, and just like you, more susceptible to the flu. They're constantly sick and swapping germs in school, so when they come to visit you during the holidays, you're more likely to get whatever they have.
You're exposed to more germs in other places, too. Flights, cruises, hotels,and rest stops are hotspots to pick up the flu virus. Especially on planes where the air is re-circulated, it's unavoidable that you'll breathe in someone else's germs. Stay hydrated, get enough rest, wash your hands after using the restroom and use hand sanitizer after exiting, wipe down surfaces on the plane, and ask to move your seat if the person next to you is sick.
The flu vaccine is the best prevention. According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study, flu vaccines will prevent people 65 years and older from being hospitalized, even when vaccine effectiveness is low. So unless you're allergic to eggs, have had an allergic reaction or experienced side effects from the flu vaccine in the past, you should get a flu shot ASAP. They're safe and your best line of defense against the flu. There are two options of the flu vaccine available this year: a regular dose and a high dose. Talk to your provider about which one is right for you. If you've already been exposed to someone who has the flu, talk to your doctor about antiviral prescription medications like Tamiflu and Relenza. They're safe, and between 70-90 percent effective at preventing the flu.
By J. Dan Morris, M.D.
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