How the Flu Impacts Seniors
The flu is categorized as an infectious disease that is caused by the influenza virus. The flu is not one singular virus, but actually dozens and dozens of ever-changing viruses that can evolve to become stronger, more difficult to treat viruses.
It’s estimated that as high as 85% of people that die from the flu are 65 years old or older. As high as 70% of people that are hospitalized are in that same age group. This just shows how devastating influenza can be to seniors. Taking the right precautionary steps to prevent or treat influenza could mean the difference between life and death.
How it Spreads
Picture this: You’re on a bus with a large group of people. One person sneezes near you, neglecting to cover their face. You say, “Bless you,” and they reply with “thank you.” You both go about your day. But, what you may not realize is that a sneeze, or cough, can spread more than half a million virus particles throughout the air. In fact, according to new research from M.I.T., a sneeze can travel as far as 200 feet thanks to a gas bubble know as a “multi-phase turbulent buoyant bubble”.
The gas bubble emanates from the sneeze and mixes with the ambient air and creates an eddy that swirls the air and holds the particles of spittle. So, this cloud of potentially infectious particulates, can float right into your airways and can possibly give you influenza. This can happen simply because the person on the bus didn’t cover their mouth.
Another unfortunate situation is that the person did cover their mouth, but they used their hand instead of their inner elbow. They then took their hands, now covered in virus, and touched the bus handles, doors, etc. Then you, unexpectedly, also touched those same handles. A little while later you eat something and transfer the germs into your mouth. Just like that, the influenza virus has been easily spread.
These, of course, are simply examples. But, chances are, they are common among daily life and people typically play the odds that what they touch isn’t infected with something horrendous.
How to Stop It
Simply put: Get a flu shot. Do not go to work if you’re sick. Unless you need to go to the hospital, stay home. Wash your hands. Frequently.
Let’s start with the flu shot. The flu shot is recommended by both the World Health Organization and the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention. It is a simple shot that one can get once a year, typically right before or as flu season (fall/winter) begins. It’s inexpensive, or free, depending on your insurance, and specifically tailored to the year’s current and most prevalent flu strains. The influenza shot has minimal side effects, if any. Those allergic to chicken eggs now have the option to receive a flu shot that is not made with chicken eggs.
Unfortunately, the flu shot is not 100% effective 100% of the time. Because of senior’s already weakened immune systems, seniors can receive a higher and stronger dosage of the flu shot, which is more effective than the regular flu shot, which is plenty efficient for those with normal immune systems. Talk to your doctor about seeing if a flu shot is right for you. It’s one of the easiest and best ways to protect yourself from the flu.
Taking preventative measures against influenza is very important when it comes to the spread of any disease, especially the flu. By simply washing our hands with soap and water frequently, and also limiting contact with you face (eyes, mouth, nose, etc.) you can effectively prevent the spread of the virus. After all, if the virus has no way into your body, typically, it has no way of infecting you.
“I have the flu, what now?”
A good start would be to talk to your doctor. If you shows signs of the influenza virus, see your doctor as soon as they present themselves. They could prescribe antiviral medication that can either eliminate the flu or shorten the strength and time of the flu. Drinking lots of fluids is also highly advised. With your doctor’s recommendation, taking over the counter medications, like acetaminophen, can help reduce fever and muscle aches that are common with influenza. Lots of rest is also a good thing if you have the flu. You probably won’t feel well enough to exert yourself anyway, so rest well and a lot.
As seniors are more vulnerable to influenza because of their immune system, it’s especially important to see your doctor the moment symptoms begin to show themselves. Influenza can be life-threatening and also turn into even more problems, like pneumonia, if left untreated.
To sum up: Get a flu shot as soon as you can. Wash your hands. If you develop flu-like symptoms, see your doctor as soon as possible. Influenza can be deadly. It’s no joking matter. Prevent the spread of the flu by covering your face when you cough and sneeze, using your inner elbow. Practice good hand-washing and avoid touching your face.
If you live at a Bonaventure Senior Living community, speak with your nurse or med-aide about ways to prevent the influenza virus. They’re very knowledgeable and can point you in the right direction. Stay well.