Now that it’s Fall – and with winter on the horizon – we are officially in the cold and flu season, even in Florida. Indeed, even though the temperatures in the Sunshine State don’t get as cold as they do further north, people are constantly traveling to the Central Florida area and bringing their germs with them. This risk will likely be compounded in January and February, just a few months away, when even Florida can get pretty chilly.
For seniors, staying on top of your vaccines is very important to your health because your immune system gets weaker with age, making it even more difficult to fight off infections. Plus, with age, many people develop chronic conditions like heart disease or diabetes, which can also weaken the immune system.
This is why older adults are more likely to come down with illnesses like the flu, pneumonia, and shingles, and experience even more severe complications. So, for example, the flu you got in your twenties or thirties, which may have kept you in bed for a few days until you got better, can lead to long-term illness in seniors and, in some cases, even be fatal.
As you get older, it’s important to maintain open communication with your doctors to make sure all of your vaccinations are up-to-date. That said, there are four vaccines that many physicians consider the most important for seniors:
Flu or Influenza
Most people have had the flu at some point in their lives. The most common symptoms include high fever, nausea, headache, sore throat, muscle aches, fatigue, and chills. Usually, people get better after a few days with plenty of rest. However, some cases are more severe and can even be life threatening regardless of age.
For older adults, age-related weakening of the immune system puts you at a higher risk for getting the flu and leaves you less able to fight it off once you have it. Plus, more than 85 percent of seniors are dealing with a chronic health condition like diabetes or heart disease, making the flu even more dangerous.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the best defense we have against the flu is an annual flu vaccine. While getting a flu shot does not guarantee that you won’t get the flu, recent studies show that it reduces the risk by up to 60 percent.
Anyone who had chickenpox as a child carries the virus that causes shingles – in a dormant stage – for the rest of their lives. Shingles occurs when the dormant virus is activated, often by high periods of stress combined with a weakened immune response. The result is a painful, itchy rash with blisters that appear on the back, chest, and face, then sometimes spreads to the rest of the body.
A third of all people will develop shingles at some point in their lives, the majority of cases occurring after the age of 60. The CDC recommends that everyone over 50 talk to their physician about getting a shingles vaccine, which is about 90 percent effective.
Also known as “hep B,” this disease is highly contagious and is caused by a virus that infects the liver. The symptoms of acute hepatitis B can be similar to the flu, including fever and nausea, and typically lasts a few weeks. Chronic hep B, on the other hand, often has no outward symptoms but can cause serious liver damage that can be life-threatening.
The liver’s function changes as you age, which is why hep B is more common among seniors, and it’s highly dangerous at an advanced age because there is no effective treatment for the symptoms.
The vaccine for hepatitis B includes a series of three or four injections over a six-month period. It’s a good idea to talk to your physician about your risk for hep B and whether the vaccine is recommended for you.
While many people have not heard of pneumococcal disease, they may be familiar with the conditions it causes, such as pneumonia, meningitis, and bacteremia, which is an infection of the blood. It’s highly dangerous for seniors with compromised immune systems because it can cause brain damage, deafness, loss of limbs, and can even be life-threatening.
In fact, pneumococcal disease kills approximately 18,000 adults age 65 or older every year. Because the immune system is less effective with older adults, the symptoms of the conditions it causes can be far more severe.
The vaccine for pneumococcal disease, which is often referred to as the “pneumonia vaccine,” consists of two injections administered approximately a year apart.
So be sure to talk to your physician about all your vaccines, especially these four highly important ones, to make sure you’re on schedule. They are all highly effective and can save you from a lot of pain and discomfort, and possibly even save your life.