Do Seniors Really Need to Get a Flu Shot?
When it comes to influenza shots, you may have heard some mixed information and be wondering whether you should get yourself vaccinated or not. Here’s some information to clarify the issue, and hopefully help you to decide for or against the jab this winter.
What is influenza?
Influenza, or the flu as it’s commonly known, is a viral infection that affects the upper respiratory tract. It is often confused with the common cold, and even thought by some people to be nothing more than a very severe cold. However, while some of the symptoms may be similar, it is actually not the same disease. Colds generally last for two or three days, while flu symptoms are usually more severe and last for at least a week.
Flu symptoms include:
· High fever and chills.
· Myalgia (aching muscles).
· Malaise / weakness.
· Sore throat.
· Dry cough.
· Rhinitis or runny / stuffy nose.
· Loss of appetite.
How is the flu spread, and how is it best treated?
The flu is contagious, and is easily spread through coughing and sneezing. Flu is more common in winter, because the virus survives outside the body more easily in the colder and dryer months. People also have a tendency to huddle together indoors during winter, which means that the flu can spread readily if just one person is infected.
A healthy person may require nothing more than bed rest and fluids to recover from the flu. As the flu is a virus, antibiotics are useless in treating it. Antiviral drugs may help reduce the length and severity of infection, if taken early.
However, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), some flu antivirals may have unpleasant side effects – especially for seniors on higher doses.
Severe infection may require hospitalisation and antibiotics to prevent secondary infections. Breathing support may also be required.
Is the flu really harmful?
The WHO estimates that the annual death rate from influenza may be as high as 500,000, usually as a result of complications. Certain groups are more vulnerable to complications, including the over 65s, residents of nursing homes, and people with chronic illnesses, or with impaired immune systems. Complications can include pneumonia, heart or brain inflammation, and degeneration of the liver
Benefits of flu vaccinations
The WHO recommends annual flu vaccinations for prevention, especially for seniors and other high-risk people. Vaccinations may reduce the risk of flu-related death in the elderly by up to 80%, and flu complications by around 60%. Flu vaccines have been around for many decades, and are very safe to use. The reason that annual shots are required is that the flu virus changes from year to year.
Drawbacks of vaccinations
In some cases reactions such as fever and aches and pains may occur, but this is usually in very young children. There is some evidence that the rate of a nervous system disorder known as GBS has been higher following flu vaccination. However, this increase is very slight – only 1-2 cases per million according to the WHO. In addition, since flu vaccines are grown in chicken eggs, they may not be suitable for people who suffer from an egg allergy.
Vaccines in Australia
Flu shots are free for people aged 65 and over. Your doctor is the best person to speak to about the vaccination, and if you decide to go ahead, the best time to get vaccinated is before winter arrives