Flu season usually runs from November through May and peaks in February. The best way to prevent the flu is to get the flu vaccine.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends all people over the age of 65 get an annual flu shot as well as a vaccination against H1N1 flu.
Flu viruses change every year and so do vaccines. While its symptoms are more severe, H1N1, or ‘swine flu,’ is a new flu virus similar in make-up to flu viruses in pigs, birds, and humans. The CDC reports that the 2010-2011 flu vaccine will include protection against H1N1, as well as the seasonal flu.
Older adults who get the flu are more likely to suffer serious complications from their illness. More than 90 percent of deaths and 60 percent of hospitalizations due to flu occur in people aged 65 years and older.
It’s never too late to get your annual flu shot. A myth is that if you have not had your flu shot by the end of November, then your opportunity is lost. The fact is, you can get the flu any time of the year and it only takes a couple of weeks to get your flu antibody levels up after the shot.
All types of flu may cause some or all of these symptoms, though H1N1 may cause them to be more severe:
- Sore throat
- Headaches or body aches
H1N1 flu may also cause:
- Runny or stuffy nose
The flu shot contains a killed virus, which can’t infect you. However, it does cause your body to make antibodies to the virus.
Common minor reactions to the flu shot include tenderness, redness, or swelling at the injection site, low grade fever, and achiness for a day or two following the shot.
The CDC recommends the flu shot for all people 6 months of age and older, particularly those at high risk for complications such as people over the age of 50 and those with chronic conditions such as diabetes, asthma, or heart disease.
Health care workers, residents of long term care facilities, and anyone who lives with or cares for people in these groups should get vaccinated.
A small section of the population should not receive the influenza vaccine, including those who are severely allergic to eggs or who have a moderate illness that involves fever. The latter should wait until they are better.
Severe reactions to the flu vaccine are rare, but those who have had one should avoid the flu shot.
There is also a nasal mist flu vaccine, but the CDC does not recommended it for seniors, since it does contain a live, weakened virus.