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Flu Season Precautions for the Elderly

The flu season for the elderly should not just be seen as another period of the sniffles. Every year the seasonal flu (influenza) leads to thousands of deaths mainly of people older than 65 years of age. The bigger concern these days is the new strains of the flu virus that are emerging. These viruses are deadly causing protracted illness and leading to severe complications which may be fatal. This includes the more well known H1N1 that caused the “swine flu” epidemic in 2009 and more recently the H3N2v virus. While there is still no cure for the seasonal flu, there are various measures that one can take to prevent the infection or at least minimize the severity of the flu.

Get Vaccinated at the Right Time

The flu virus mutates rapidly. This is its secret to surviving eradication and infecting hundreds of millions every year. Mutation means that there are minor changes in the virus making it somewhat of a “new” virus each time. Your immune system does not have the pre-programmed defenses (immunity) against these new strains. Similarly the vaccines of one year does not provide protection against the flu virus of the next year. In fact the vaccine for one flu season can be ineffective within months.

However, the flu vaccine is still one of the most effective measures to prevent infection. Every year a new vaccine is developed and distributed. Therefore you need to get vaccinated as soon as the new vaccine is launched. Vaccinating too early or too late is not helpful. Both government organizations and commercial entities make media announcements when the time is right for vaccinating for the current flu season or consult with a doctor or your pharmacist. Seniors are considered to be a high risk group and should be vaccinated every year against the current flu virus.

Avoid People with the Flu

The flu virus is transmitted through droplet spread. This means that mucus and saliva droplets containing the virus can spread the infection from one person to another. In most instances these droplets become airborne when an infected person coughs or sneezes. However, mucus or saliva from an infected person can remain on inanimate object (fomites) for short periods of time and infect another person.  Therefore every person who has the flu is highly contagious and should limit contact with others.

Unfortunately not every person with the flu can remain in quarantine of sorts within their home nor wish to do so. As a senior who is considered to be a high risk individual, the onus is on you to limit contact with those who have the flu. While this is not always possible in public places, you should be cautious when interacting with family or friends with the flu. Never touch you face with your hands and try washing your hands as frequently as possible. Droplets on the hands taken to the face allows the virus to enter your body through your mouth or nose.

Stay Healthy for a Strong Immune System

Even though there are now antiviral drugs that can treat the flu, although not cure it, the best ‘soldier’ to combat the flu virus is your very own immune system. It is active in every part of your body and can isolate and neutralize a threat anywhere within minutes. The human immune system is complex and its effectiveness largely depends on your state of health. If you remain healthy then your immune system will function at its optimal level thereby preventing the flu or at least minimizing the severity of the infection.

This means eating a healthy balanced diet, exercising regularly, using supplements as prescribed by a doctor, sleeping for sufficient periods in a day and controlling your stress levels. As a senior there is the added burden of chronic diseases and medication hampering your immune defenses but it should not stop you from living a healthy lifestyle. Speak to your doctor about a suitable exercise program, consult with a dietitian about a balanced eating plan, avoid cigarette smoking and minimize alcohol consumption. These few simple measures can “arm” your defense system ensuring that it protects you when you need it the most.


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