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Basic Facts About the Flu and Flu Prevention Tips for Seniors

Many people know that it’s that time of year again: flu season. The flu season typically runs from now until early spring. However, flu prevention isn’t just about avoiding a few days of illness. It is also about protecting the vulnerable in our community. Unfortunately, every year, one of the most reliable prevention methods is not fully utilized. One reason for this is a lack of adequate information. 

Facts About the Flu

The flu is defined as a mild to severe respiratory illness caused by a variety of influenza viruses. Onset of the flu is usually sudden, and the illness is extremely contagious. A mild flu can last from three to seven days, although the associated cough and fatigue can last for more than two weeks. 

Annually, the illness affects about 10 percent of U.S. residents. The CDC estimates that, since 2010, the flu has resulted in 9.3 million to 49 million illnesses every year. According to the CDC, the estimated number of deaths in the 2017-2018 flu season was nearly 80,000. Additionally, the flu is responsible for nearly 710,000 hospitalizations per year, with people aged 65 and older accounting for approximately 58 percent of those hospitalizations. The average cost of flu-related hospitalizations and outpatient doctor visits is $10 billion. Moreover, the flu results in decreased work productivity, with U.S. employees missing a combined total of approximately 17 million work days. The associated cost of these sick days, and the decline in productivity which results from them, is $7 billion per year.

Individuals most vulnerable to the flu include older adults, very young children, pregnant women, and those with chronic health conditions such as asthma, diabetes, and heart disease. Symptoms of the flu include:

  • Fever that lasts for several days, often with chills
  • Cough
  • Sore throat
  • Runny or stuffy nose
  • Body aches
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Eye pain, such as burning, pain on eye movement, or sensitivity to light

Flu viruses are spread by airborne droplets when people cough, sneeze, or talk. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of others. Although less likely, it is also possible for someone to get the flu by first touching a surface that has the virus on it, and then touching their mouth, nose, or eyes.

Flu Prevention Tips and Remedies

Getting an annual flu vaccination is the best way to prevent the flu. However, you can also help protect yourself and others, and recover from the flu more quickly, by doing the following:

  • Avoiding close contact with people who are sick.
  • Staying home to avoid spreading your illness to others.
  • Covering your mouth and nose when you sneeze or cough, especially if you have the flu. Cough or sneeze into a tissue or your elbow, not into your hands.
  • Regularly washing your hands with soap and water. When soap and water are not available, hand sanitizer is an alternate option.
  • Avoiding touching your eyes, nose, or mouth.
  • Cleaning and disinfecting surfaces regularly, especially if you, or someone in your home or workplace, has the flu.

Healthy Habits

You can boost your immune system, strengthen your body, and minimize the effects of the flu by practicing the following daily healthy habits:

  • Maintain a healthy diet. Many foods and drinks contain antioxidants and vitamins that your body needs to stay healthy. Herbs and spices that are high in antioxidants include cinnamon, turmeric, ginger, cloves, and oregano. Other foods that may strengthen your immune system or reduce the effects of the flu include garlic, extra virgin olive oil, broccoli, tomatoes, wild salmon, dark chocolate, spinach, eggs, oranges, Greek yogurt, blueberries, whole grain bread, apples, ginseng, and green tea.
  • Get the appropriate amount of sleep. According to sleep.org, adults ages 18 and older typically require seven to nine hours of sleep per night. When you don’t get the proper amount of sleep, your body and immune system are weakened.
  • Stay active and manage stress. Staying active can help seniors’ bodies and minds in multiple ways. These include better sleep and reduced stress, both of which have been correlated with reducing the effects of the flu.
  • Drink water regularly. While everyone should drink an adequate amount of water each day, doing so is especially important for seniors. Seniors can be prone to dehydration because signs of thirst diminish with age and because medications may affect water intake. If you have the flu, you should drink plenty of fluids because your body loses more water during the course of an illness. This can lead to dehydration, which can then lead to more serious health complications.

Flu Myths Debunked

When it comes to the flu, do you know fact from fiction? The following is just a sample of myths about the flu (and the truth behind them): 

False: The flu and a cold are the same. The flu is just worse.

True: Although the flu and a cold may have similar symptoms, such as a sore throat, a runny nose, sneezing, and a cough, they are not the same.

False: You can only spread the flu when you have symptoms.

True: More than 20% of people carrying the virus aren’t showing any symptoms at all.

False: You don’t need to get a flu shot every year.

True: Because the influenza virus changes each year, you need to get vaccinated annually.

False: Starve a fever, feed a cold.

True: Although staying hydrated is important if you have a fever, cold, or the flu, there’s no need to change your diet.

False: You can catch the flu from cold weather, by going outside with wet hair, or by sitting near a drafty window.

True: People say this because flu season coincides with colder weather but, in reality, only the influenza virus leads to the flu.

False: I got the flu because I got the flu shot.

True: Even though some people get sick despite getting a flu shot, the shot itself cannot give you the flu.

If you suspect that you have the flu or are feeling sick, see a doctor as soon as possible. You should also ask your physician for specific facts about the flu shot as they pertain to you. Talk to your provider if you’ve had a bad reaction to a vaccine in the past before receiving your next flu shot.

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