Aging Options

What you should know about the flu if you are a Baby Boomer or older

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In China this week, a 41-year old man died of rabies.  Over 2000 people die of rabies each year in China even though China is the world’s largest purchaser of rabies vaccine.  Wound cleansing and immunization within a few hours of contact can prevent the disease according to the World Health Organization. For the Chinese, the cure can cost up to a month’s wages which probably explains at least part of the reason for the fatalities.   Now you know I didn’t bring up this rabies incident because I’m concerned about a non-issue like rabies in America where the number of deaths associated with rabies each year resides around one or two individuals who usually were unaware they were exposed to rabies.  I bring up rabies because it is largely curable and still people die from it…kind of like the flu.

It cannot have escaped your attention that we are at the beginning of flu season.  No one in the United States should die from the flu yet each year thousands of people do.  In the United States, although we don’t have any real way to track how many people die from the flu each year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that depending upon the virulence of the flu strain between a low of 3,000 and a high of 49,000 individuals die annually.  About 90 percent of influenza associated deaths and more than 60 percent of seasonal flu-related hospitalizations in the United States occur among adults 65 years and older.

Pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus infections and ear infections are flu-related complications.  For those individuals who already have chronic health issues, the flu can aggravate those issues.  Chronic congestive heart failure and asthma are two issues seriously impacted by a bout with flu.

Why get a flu shot?  Studies show that vaccination can reduce the risk of hospitalization (an estimated 226,000 each year according to the American Lung Association) and death, reduce the time the illness persists, as well as cut down on antibiotic use, doctor visits, and lost work.  While the benefits of the vaccine vary, getting vaccinated is still the best protection available against the flu.  A study by the CDC and Vanderbilt University found that flu vaccinations reduced the risk of flu-related hospitalization by nearly 77 percent in participants 50 and older.  Other studies have found that flu vaccines reduce the risk of death in older adults and can reduce the risk of a heart attack in individuals 65 and older.

The good news is that vaccination coverage in the United States is on the rise.  Overall, 45 percent of the entire United States population aged 6 months and older was vaccinated in the 2012-2013 season with the highest vaccination rate among children 6 months to 4 years.  Adults aged 65 and over were the second highest but they are often in close contact with caregivers who don’t have nearly the same coverage.  If you work around or provide informal care for individuals with a high risk for flu such as hospitals, clinics and long term care facilities you should get vaccinated.  If a loved one is in a care environment, ask someone at that facility what coverage level they have.  The CDC compared coverage at hospitals (at an overall rate of 83 percent) at a significantly higher rate than nursing homes (with a coverage rate of 59 percent).

Your health is your greatest asset.  We say that a lot on this site.  If you care for your health the end product of that care will be better financial health (and thus protecting your assets) and more control over your housing options (and thus avoiding becoming a burden and lowering the risk you’ll lose the option of avoiding a nursing home).  A flu shot is a low cost shield for protecting your health.  Everyone who can should get one.

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