Actions To Take This Flu Season
- Get Your Seasonal Flu Shot. The best way to prevent seasonal flu is by getting a seasonal flu vaccination each year. As always, CDC recommends that people 65 and older get their regular, or "seasonal," flu vaccine as soon as it is available. This year is no exception as seasonal flu viruses are expected to circulate along with 2009 H1N1 viruses this flu season. When the 2009 H1N1 vaccine becomes available for people 65 years and older, you should get that vaccine also.
- Take Everyday Preventive Actions including covering coughs, washing hands often and avoiding people who are sick.
- Seek medical advice quickly if you develop flu symptoms to see whether you might need medical evaluation or possibly treatment with antiviral medications. People 65 and older are prioritized to get antiviral drugs if they become sick with the flu according to CDC's guidance. Flu symptoms include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some people may also have vomiting and diarrhea. People may be infected with the flu, including 2009 H1N1, and have respiratory symptoms without a fever.
People 65 Years and Older and Seasonal Flu
It has been recognized for many years that older people are at greater risk of serious complications from the flu compared with young, healthy adults. It's estimated that 90 percent of seasonal flu-related deaths and more than 60 percent of seasonal flu-related hospitalizations in the United States each year occur in people 65 years and older. This is because human immune defenses become weaker with age. So influenza can be a very serious disease for people 65 and older.
People 65 Years and Older and 2009 H1N1 Flu
The new 2009 H1N1 virus does not seem to be affecting people 65 years and older in the same way that seasonal flu usually does. Most people who have gotten sick from this new virus have been younger. In fact, people 65 and older are the group that is least likely to get infected with this new virus. There have been relatively few infections and even fewer cases of serious illness and death with this new virus in people older than 65. Laboratory tests on blood samples indicate that older people likely have some pre-existing immunity to the 2009 H1N1 flu virus. But while people 65 and older are the least likely to be infected with 2009 H1N1 flu, those that do become infected are at greater risk of having serious complications from their illness.
How Flu Spreads
The main way that influenza viruses are thought to spread is from person to person in respiratory droplets of coughs and sneezes. This can happen when droplets from a cough or sneeze of an infected person are propelled through the air and deposited on the mouth or nose of people nearby. Influenza viruses may also be spread when a person touches respiratory droplets on another person or an object and then touches their own mouth or nose (or someone else's mouth or nose) before washing their hands.
People with 2009 H1N1 flu who are cared for at home should:
- Check with their health care provider about any special care they might need if they are pregnant or have a health condition such as diabetes, heart disease, asthma, or emphysema
- Check with their health care provider about whether they should take antiviral medications
- Keep away from others as much as possible. This is to keep from making others sick. Do not go to work or school while ill
- Stay home for at least 24 hours after fever is gone, except to seek medical care or for other necessities. (Fever should be gone without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.)
- Get plenty of rest
- Drink clear fluids (such as water, broth, sports drinks, electrolyte beverages for infants) to keep from being dehydrated
- Cover coughs and sneezes. Wash hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub
- Wear a facemask - if available and tolerable - when sharing common spaces with other household members to help prevent spreading the virus to others. This is especially important if other household members are at high risk for complications from influenza.