The news stories seem to come every year at about this time. The flu season is in full swing, but once again, say the headlines, the officials in charge of our national health care have made the wrong guess about the particular strain of the flu virus that is most prevalent. One article that appeared online last week quoted estimates that “the flu vaccine may only be 10 percent effective against this year’s most common strains.” The Newsweek article went on to explain why the news about flu is so dire. “Every year, scientists must make an educated guess about what virus is likely to be the one that makes people sick,” the article said. “This approach has obvious downsides.” In the words of one expert on infectious diseases, “We’re constantly trying to play a catch-up game.”
So does that mean getting a flu shot is pointless? Absolutely not, according to this article from the website HealthDay – in fact, quite the opposite is true. Even if this year’s vaccine is a mismatch with this year’s virus, there is strong, new evidence that annual flu shots repeated over multiple consecutive years definitely help keep vulnerable seniors out of the hospital.
“The current flu season is shaping up to be a nasty one,” says the HealthDay article, “but there’s good news for American seniors who’ve gotten their flu shot. New research shows that for older adults, faithfully getting the vaccine each year greatly reduces the odds of catching a flu so severe that it lands you in the hospital.” The article describes a Spanish research study which revealed that those seniors who get their flu shot year after year reduce their risk of dying from influenza by an amazing 70 percent, and they are also 74 percent less likely to wind up in intensive care due to effects from the flu bug. According to Dr. Jesus Castilla, the Spanish research physician who authored the study, “The findings bolster the notion that although getting a flu shot doesn’t always prevent the flu, it can make it milder for those who do catch it.”
While for most people catching the flu is a relatively minor annoyance, for many of the most vulnerable it can prove deadly. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reports that influenza accounts for hundreds of thousands of hospitalizations every year, and depending on the severity of a particular flu season the number of deaths in the U.S. has ranged between 12,000 and 56,000 each year since 2010. Older adults are particularly susceptible to severe complications from influenza because their immune systems aren’t as robust.
Dr. Castilla’s research concentrated on several hundred adults 65 years old and older. What the doctor and his colleagues discovered was that the positive benefits from the flu shot appear to be cumulative: in fact, the study found that those who had gotten a flu vaccination in the current and three previous flu seasons were half as likely to develop a severe case of the illness than their less-vaccinated counterparts. In Dr. Castilla’s words, “Annual vaccination acts as a booster for [the patient’s] immune response. In other words, the protection increases as compared to the effect of vaccination in a single season.”
As the HealthDay article explains, developing each year’s flu vaccine is “a tricky business.” In order to predict what vaccine to produce for patients in the Northern Hemisphere, health officials examine which strains of the virus had been most prevalent in the Southern Hemisphere in the previous months. Then they adapt the vaccine to those expectations. “They have to do a little bit of guesswork,” said one immunologist, “and don’t always guess correctly.” But the good news from this new research, and the biggest take-away of all for seniors and their families, is that the quality of that “guesswork” from one year to the next may not matter so much.
As one doctor put it, “The most important take-home message is to get your flu shot and not worry about how effective it is this year.” She adds that “People might be more inclined to skip [the vaccine],” but they definitely should not, because “this study really emphasizes that a primary benefit is year after year of consistently getting that flu shot helps keep people out of the hospital and ICU.”
As we at AgingOptions read this article it brings to mind the critical importance of getting good, solid, age-appropriate medical advice. For seniors, we strongly advise that you seek out the services of a geriatrician, someone trained in the unique health needs of older adults. In our professional experience, a geriatrician will take the time to get to know you, answer your questions, and give you medical advice that is right for your age and circumstances – the exact opposite of the “cookie cutter medicine” all too common today. If you’ll contact us at AgingOptions we will gladly refer you to a geriatrician in your area. (And if you haven’t yet gotten your flu shot this year, experts say it’s not too late. Better safe than sorry, we say.)
What about your retirement planning? Here, too, it’s vital that you work with someone who will take the time to listen to you and get to know your circumstances – not someone who will suggest a one-size-fits-all approach that may seem suitable today but is sure to prove dangerously inadequate in the future when health concerns loom and housing plans become unsustainable. At AgingOptions we call our comprehensive retirement planning approach LifePlanning, and we invite you to join Rajiv Nagaich at a free seminar where you can get the facts about this retirement breakthrough for yourself. We offer these LifePlanning Seminars at locations throughout the Puget Sound region, and we would love to have you with us. For dates, times and locations, click here to visit our Upcoming Events page. Then register online or call us during the week.
LifePlanning Seminars do fill up fast, so why not register today? It will be our pleasure to meet you.
(originally reported at https://consumer/healthday.com)