What you should know and do this flu season if you are 65 years or older

It has been recognized for many years that people 65 years and older are at greater risk of serious complications from the flu compared with young, healthy adults. It's estimated that up to 85 percent of seasonal flu-related deaths and 70 percent of seasonal flu-related hospitalizations in the United States each year occur in people 65 years and older. This is because human immune defenses become weaker with age. So influenza can be a very serious disease for people 65 and older. 

2017-18 Flu Season Highlights

The Centers for Disease Control and Infection (CDC) recommends that everyone age 6 months be vaccinated against the flu each year - preferrably by the end of October.   

It takes about two weeks after vaccination for protection to set in so consider these facts and start thinking about getting vaccinated now

  • The flu shot will help protect you from the flu: In a typical year, the flu vaccine offers protection from three strains of the flu virus. The vaccine is updated every year to better match the strains that are currently circulating. Getting vaccinated can help prevent the flu, or if you do get the flu, it can help lessen the severity and length of your illness. For the 2017-18 flu season, there are several vaccination options available, including specific options for older adults. 
  • Some people have a higher risk of becoming very sick if they get the flu: It is especially important for people at high risk from complications of the flu to get their flu shot every year. This includes young children, pregnant women, people with compromised immune systems, people who live in long-term care facilities, people age 65 and older, and people who care for those at high risk for flu complications. Click here for more information. 
  • While vaccination provides the greatest protection against the flu, there are other effective ways to avoid getting or spreading it including: washing hands frequently or using alcohol-based hand sanitizer; covering coughs and sneezes with tissues, or coughing or sneezing into elbows; avoiding touching eyes, nose and mouth; and staying home when sick and until fever-free for 24 hours without using fever-reducing medication. 


Get Your Flu Shot

The best way to prevent the flu is with a flu vaccine. CDC recommends that everyone 6 months of age and older get a seasonal flu vaccine as soon as it becomes available in your community - preferrably by the end of October. Vaccination is especially important for people 65 years and older because they are at increased risk for complications from flu.

A study released by the CDC in August, 2016 found that influenza vaccination reduced the risk of hospitalization by 57 percent among people age 50 older older. 

A flu vaccine protects against flu viruses that research indicates will be most common during the season.  The vaccine is updated every year and immunity wanes over a year, so you should get vaccinated this year even if you were vaccinated last season. Immunity sets in about two weeks after vaccination.

People 65 years and older have several options when it comes to flu vaccination.

  1. The regular flu shot - available to the general public.
  2. A high dose vaccine designed specifically for people age 65 and older.  The high dose vaccine contains four times the amount of antigen as the regular flu shot. It is associated with a stronger immune response following vaccination (higher antibody production). The high dose vaccine has been approved for use in the United States since 2009.
  3. The adjuvanted flu vaccine, Fluad, is designed to help create a stronger immune response to vaccination. This vaccine was available for the first time in the United States during the 2016-2017 season.

The high dose and adjuvanted flu vaccines may result in more of the mild side effects that can occur with standard-dose seasonal shots. Mild side effects can include pain, redness or swelling at the injection site, headache, muscle ache and malaise.

Note: People 65 years of age and older should not get the nasal spray flu vaccine (which is not recommended for use in any population this flu season), the intradermal flu shot, or jet injector flu vaccine.

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Practice good health habits

Practice good health habits including covering coughs, washing hands often, and avoiding people who are sick.


Seek medical advice

Seek medical advice quickly if you develop flu symptoms to see whether you might need medical evaluation or treatment with antiviral drugs. It's very important that antiviral drugs be used early to treat flu in people who are very sick with flu (for example, people who are in the hospital), and people who are sick with flu and have a greater chance of getting serious flu complications, like people 65 and older (see box for full list of high risk persons/conditions).

Flu symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some people may also have vomiting and diarrhea. People may be infected with the flu and have respiratory symptoms without a fever.

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Protect your older loved ones

The flu can be easily passed from person to person, so it’s important that those who spend time with older adults, such as family and caregivers, also get vaccinated.


Where to get your flu shot

There are many places to get a flu shot. Your doctor’s office, local pharmacy, or health department are all good places to start. Get a list of local health departments in our Resource Directory.

Learn more about seniors and the flu at National Council on Aging's Flu and You website or from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

National Council on Aging 

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Other vaccines for older adults

Older adults are especially vulnerable to certain diseases, including the flu and pneumonia. Vaccinations help older people protect themselves from getting influenza, pneumonia and other illnesses.

Which vaccinations should an older adult get to guard themselves against serious illnesses? According to the CDC older adults need vaccinations to protect themselves against the following diseases:

  • Seasonal Influenza (Also, anyone 6 months or older can benefit from a flu vaccine).
  • Tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough) (for adults up to 64 years, one lifetime dose)
  • Shingles (for adults 60 years and older)
  • Pneumococcal disease (for adults 65 years and older and adults with specific health conditions)

Click here for more information.

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