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With the Omicron variant of Covid surging, it’s been easy to forget about the flu. This year, Covid seems like a much bigger problem for the elderly, and for society as a whole. Let’s not forget however that the flu is out there and poses risks for seniors. While flu cases did go down during last year’s flu season, the flu remains a threat. The good news here is that we have a vaccine for the flu.

Why Should Older Adults Care About the Flu?

While the flu can be a mild illness for some, other groups are at a higher risk of seniors illness. Seniors fall into this high risk group, with adults who are age 65 or older more likely to suffer from complications from the flu. Other high risk groups include persons living in nursing homes or other long-term care facilities and people with certain health problems, including diabetes, asthma, chronic kidney disease, heart disease, or stroke.

As you get older, your immune system weakens. This means that if you contract the flu, you might be more likely to acquire another infection, like pneumonia. The health conditions that many older adults face also makes them more likely to have complications from the flu. The CDC estimates that 70 to 80 percent of flu deaths occur in persons age 65 or older. The CDC also estimates that between 50 to 70 percent of people hospitalized for reasons related to the flu are age 65 and up.

How Can You Protect Yourself?

With Covid surging, the last place any of us wants to be right now is in the hospital. The good news is that there are effective ways to protect yourself from the flu. The most important way to protect yourself is to get vaccinated. While it’s true that flu vaccine effectiveness varies from year to year, data shows that getting your flu vaccine provides many benefits. Getting a flu vaccine can prevent you from getting sick at all. If you do get sick despite being vaccinated, having been vaccinated reduces the likelihood that you will suffer a severe illness. This in turn reduces like chance that you will have a serious outcome that could land you in the hospital or cause death.

The flu vaccines change every year and flu immunity wanes, so it is important that you get a vaccine annually. You cannot rely on a flu vaccine from a prior year to protect you. Immunity to the flu has been known to decrease more rapidly on older adults, making it even more imperative for seniors to stay up to date on their flu vaccines.

Unfortunately, many seniors do not get a flu vaccine and thus don’t benefit from the protection it offers. Data from this year’s flu season has indicated that vaccination rates among older adults were down from prior years, a worrisome sign.1 While flu season is part way over, we still have a couple of months to go. To learn more about the flu, vaccination, and old age, click here..

Another piece of good news is that many of the steps we take to prevent Covid infection can also help prevent the flu. We’ve all gotten used to wearing masks due to Covid. Luckily, covering you mouth and wearing a mask can reduce the spread of flu as well. Similarly, washing your hands and avoiding touching your mouth, nose, and eyes can reduce your chances of getting the flu.

Covid and the flu share many of the same symptoms. If you are sick, it is difficult to know which illness you have until you get tested. Preventing the flu can have the added benefit of reducing the likelihood of your having a Covid scare and of facing the stress and worry about whether you have Covid.

Interested in getting a flu vaccine? Click here for information about where to get a flu vaccine in Contra Costa County.