The flu is a respiratory infection that affects many people each year. Anyone can get the virus, which can cause mild to severe symptoms. Symptoms of the flu include fever, body aches, runny nose, coughing, sore throat, and fatigue.
These symptoms typically improve in about a week, with some people fully recovering without complications. But in older adults whose immune systems might be weaker, the flu can be dangerous. The risk of flu-related complications like pneumonia is higher in older adults.
Up to 85 percent of seasonal flu-related deaths occur in people who are 65 or older. If you’re in this age group, it’s important that you know how to protect yourself before and after exposure to the virus.
Here’s a look at six practical ways to keep yourself safe this flu season.
Avoiding large crowds can often be difficult. But if you’re able to limit contact with people during flu season, you can reduce your risk of getting an infection.
The flu can spread quickly in confined spaces. This includes schools, workplaces, nursing homes, and assisted-living facilities. If you have a weaker immune system, wear a face mask whenever you’re in a public place during flu season.
You can also protect yourself by staying away from people who are sick. Keep your distance from anyone who is coughing, sneezing, or has other symptoms of a cold or virus.
Because the flu virus can live on hard surfaces for 24 hours, get into a habit of regularly washing your hands. This is especially important before preparing food and eating. Also, you should always wash your hands after using the bathroom.
Carry a bottle of hand sanitizing gel with you, and sanitize your hands throughout the day when unable to wash your hands. You can do this after shaking hands with someone and after coming into contact with commonly touched surfaces like doorknobs, light switches, and counters.
Not only should you wash your hands regularly, but you should also make a conscious effort not to touch your nose, mouth, or eyes. The flu virus can travel in the air, but it can also enter your body when your infected hands touch your face.
When washing your hands, use warm soapy water and rub your hands together for at least 20 seconds. Rinse your hands and dry with a clean towel.
To avoid touching your face, cough or sneeze into a tissue or into your elbow.
Strengthening your immune system is another way to protect yourself against the flu. A strong immune system helps your body fight off infections. And if you do become sick, a strong immune system helps reduce the severity of symptoms.
To build your immunity, sleep at least seven and a half to nine hours per night. Also, maintain a regular physical activity routine — at least 30 minutes, three times a week.
Eat a healthy, nutrient-rich diet, as well. Limit sugar, junk foods, and fatty foods. Instead, eat a variety of fruits and vegetables, which are full of vitamins and antioxidants, to promote good health.
Talk to your doctor about taking a multivitamin to provide immune system support.
Make sure you get a flu vaccination each year. The predominant circulating flu virus changes from year to year, so you’ll need to update your vaccination each year.
Keep in mind that it takes about two weeks for the vaccine to be effective. Getting a shot can reduce your risk of illness by 40 to 60 percent on average. If you get the flu after a vaccination, the shot may reduce the severity and duration of your illness.
Due to the high risk of complications in people over the age of 65, you should get your flu vaccination early in the season, at least by late October. Talk to your doctor about getting a high-dose or adjuvant vaccine (Fluzone or Fluad). Both are designed specifically for people ages 65 and older.
A high-dose vaccine contains about four times the amount of antigen as a regular flu shot. An adjuvant vaccine contains a chemical that stimulates the immune system. These shots are able to build a stronger immune response to vaccination.
In addition to getting your annual flu shot, ask your doctor about the pneumococcal vaccinations. These protect against pneumonia, meningitis, and other bloodstream infections.
If someone in your home has the flu and you might become exposed to the flu virus, you can reduce your risk of infection by keeping surfaces in your house clean and disinfected. This can kill flu germs.
Use a disinfectant cleaner to wipe down doorknobs, telephones, toys, light switches, and other surfaces several times each day. The infected person should also quarantine themselves to a certain part of the house.
If you’re caring for this individual, wear a surgical mask and gloves when attending to them, and wash your hands after.
Because the flu can be dangerous in people over the age of 65, visit your doctor if you develop any symptoms of the flu.
Symptoms to watch for include fever, coughing, sore throat, body aches, headache, tiredness, and runny nose. There’s no cure for the flu. But if you’re exposed to the virus and see a doctor early, you might be able to receive a prescription antiviral medication such as Tamiflu.
If taken within the first 48 hours of symptoms, an antiviral may shorten the duration of the flu and reduce the severity of symptoms. As a result, there’s a lower risk of complications like pneumonia, hospitalization, and death.
The flu virus is dangerous in the elderly and can lead to life-threatening complications. Take preventive steps to protect yourself and reduce the risk of illness.
Talk to your doctor about getting a flu vaccination, and be proactive about strengthening your immune system and avoiding contact with sick people.