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Sharp Health News

Flu and older adults

Sept. 30, 2020

Caregiver administering a shot into a patient's arm

It has long been recognized that older adults are at high risk of developing serious complications from flu compared with younger adults. This risk is due in part to changes in immune defenses with increasing age.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it’s estimated that between 70% and 85% of seasonal flu-related deaths have occurred in people age 65 and older. In addition, between 50% and 70% of seasonal flu-related hospitalizations have occurred among people in this age group.

“The senior dose flu shot, FLUAD, offers a better immunity boost to those over the age of 65,” says Dr. Amber Ortega, a family medicine doctor with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group.

FLUAD is a high-dose quadrivalent vaccine that contains four times the antigen — the part of the vaccine that helps your body build up protection against flu viruses — as compared to Fluzone Quadrivalent and other standard-dose inactivated flu vaccines. The higher dose of antigen is intended to give older people a better immune response, and therefore, better protection against flu.

However, Dr. Ortega is quick to add that any flu shot is better than none at all.

“The normal flu shot will offer better protection to seniors than going unvaccinated this season. It is also safe for those with an egg allergy, contrary to popular belief.”

Year to year, flu seasons fluctuate in terms of timing and severity. The CDC estimates that between 39 million and 56 million Americans were ill with the flu between Oct. 1, 2019 and April 4, 2020.

Dr. Ortega admits it’s hard to predict what this year’s flu season will bring, although it seems the Southern Hemisphere has not had much activity during its winter.

That development is certainly encouraging and Dr. Ortega believes this could be attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has people practicing safety measures to prevent the spread of viruses, be it SARS-CoV-2 (which causes COVID-19) or influenza A or B (which causes the flu).

Masking, social distancing and, first and foremost, hand hygiene are likely responsible for preventing higher cases of the flu, and we can only hope this will be true in the Northern Hemisphere as well,” she says.

Dr. Ortega urges people to get the flu shot this year to protect themselves, their families and others around them from spreading a possibly deadly virus, which could potentially be worse if someone also has COVID-19. She notes that it is possible to have the flu and COVID-19 at the same time, the so-called “twindemic.” With both illnesses likely to be circulating together this fall and winter, it’s more important than ever to get vaccinated.

“The best way to avoid contracting the flu is to get the flu shot annually, which is recommended for every person age 6 months and older,” she says. “September and October have always been the best times to get vaccinated to have lasting protection throughout the flu season, especially for those 65 and older who are at high risk for flu complications.”

Learn more about the flu and where to receive a flu vaccine in San Diego. Sharp Rees-Stealy patients can receive a flu vaccine at their next scheduled primary care appointment or through drive-up vaccination stations (appointment required).

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