According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the United States is facing the highest flu hospitalization rates in more than a decade.
As of the beginning of December, more than 8.7 million people had the flu, 78,000 were hospitalized and 4,500 died. Older adults face the biggest risk right now, with their hospitalization rates representing nearly double that of the general population.
Staying safe from the flu is even more important as COVID-19 and RSV continue to affect our communities, which is why I am constantly advising my patients to get vaccinated. I also find myself answering a few common questions about this year’s flu season — and how older adults can protect themselves from infection and severe illness.
This is what I share with my patients, friends and loved ones:
Is it too late to get the flu shot?
No, there’s still time to get it. Getting your annual flu vaccine now is better than not getting it at all.
Is the “senior flu vaccine” really different?
High-dose flu vaccines are a type of vaccine approved for people age 65 and older. The higher dose of antigen in the vaccine is intended to give older adults a better immune response to vaccination and therefore, better protection against flu.
What are other ways to avoid the flu?
Along with getting vaccinated, follow these tips to help steer clear of the flu this season:
- Avoid close contact: Avoid close contact with people who are sick. When you are sick, keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick too.
- Stay home when you are sick: If possible, stay home from work, school and errands when you are sick. This will help prevent spreading your illness to others.
- Cover your mouth and nose: Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing or sneezing. Flu viruses spread mainly by droplets made when people with flu cough, sneeze or talk.
- Clean your hands: Washing your hands often will help protect you from germs. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth: Germs can be spread when a person touches something that is contaminated with germs and then touches their eyes, nose or mouth.
- Practice other good health habits: Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces at home, work or school, especially when someone is ill. Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious food.
If I have the flu, are there any home remedies that work to alleviate flu symptoms?
The flu is treated primarily with rest and fluids to let the body fight the infection on its own. Over-the-counter anti-inflammatory pain relievers may help with symptoms. But it’s important to remember that an annual vaccine can help prevent the flu and limit its complications.
When should I go to the hospital for treatment?
If you have the flu, seek medical care if you are experiencing any of the following symptoms:
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
- Sudden dizziness or frequent dizzy spells
- Severe or persistent vomiting
Getting vaccinated and taking precautions can help keep everyone healthier during the months when the virus is most prevalent. Protect yourself and your loved ones to better enjoy the holiday season.
Dr. Kaveh Bahmanpour is a board-certified family medicine and geriatric medicine doctor with Sharp Community Medical Group.