While this year’s flu season has been relatively mild in San Diego, health officials now warn of an aggressive new strain of flu in the region. Unlike the H1N1 seen most commonly so far, this new H3N2 strain could result in more significant symptoms and hospitalizations.
Although the flu affects people of all ages, adults 65 years and older are at greater risk of serious complications from the flu, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This is because your immune defenses become weaker as you age.
Older adults may underestimate the seriousness of the flu, but it is important for seniors to protect themselves during flu season, as it can worsen other chronic health conditions such as heart disease and diabetes.
"Most seniors take a proactive approach to their health, but are not confident in their knowledge of the flu or their vaccine options," says Sharon Rudnick, manager of the Sharp Senior Health Centers.
According to the CDC, people in this age group, on average, account for more than half of annual flu-related hospitalizations and almost all of annual flu-related deaths.
For older adults, here are some tips to help stay healthy during flu season.
Get the vaccine.
Getting an annual flu vaccine is one of the most important things you can do to maintain your health. While it generally takes two weeks to reach full immunity, older adults who have not yet done so should still get the vaccine. It is not too late.
Detect any early symptoms.
If you think you have the flu, consider seeking medical treatment at the first signs of symptoms. Your doctor may prescribe antiviral medication - if taken within 48 hours of the onset of symptoms, the medication may help shorten the duration of the flu and lessen the effects of the illness.
Symptoms may include:
• Body aches
• Fever (above 100.4° F)
• Muscle pain
• Nasal congestion
• Runny nose
• Sore throat
Wash your hands, and cover coughs and sneezes.
You will still have to be cautious even if you get vaccinated. The flu virus spreads when infected people cough or sneeze. Frequently washing your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, and coughing or sneezing into your elbow may help stop the spread of the virus.
Regularly clean commonly touched surfaces.
It's important to regularly wipe down frequently used areas and items, such as work surfaces, phones, doorknobs and countertops with antibacterial wipes or spray. Keeping commonly used areas and items clean may help protect you throughout the flu season.
This story was updated in March 2019 to reflect changes in the region’s flu outlook.
For the news media: To talk with a Sharp Senior Health Center doctor about the flu and seniors for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at firstname.lastname@example.org.