This year’s flu season may be coming to a close, but the nation’s seniors are not out of the woods yet. The 2017-2018 flu season has been severe and the older population has felt the impact deeply. There were a total of 19,398 laboratory-confirmed influenza-associated hospitalizations reported between October 1, 2017 and February 10, 2018, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Of those cases, the highest rate of hospitalization was among adults 65 and older.
As of late February, the CDC reported flu activity was still elevated across the country and the viruses were expected to continue circulating for several weeks. Since this especially harsh flu season is expected to linger, it’s important that long-term facilities do everything they can to protect their residents.
This year’s flu season has been the worse seen in a decade for a number of reasons. First, both influenza A and B strains are going around at the same time, instead of following one another. Second, the approved injectable flu vaccines are less effective than expected. The CDC found that vaccines reduced the chances of getting the flu by about one-third, however, the vaccines were about 25 percent effective against the worst of the two viruses circulating this season- influenza A (H3N2).Despite the dip in its effectiveness, the flu vaccine is still recommended for everyone 6 months and older. A flu shot significantly reduces the duration and severity of an influenza infection, which is important for vulnerable populations like those living in long-term healthcare settings.
The right shot for older adults
Ideally, the vaccination should occur before flu season begins each October. However, latecomers can still reap the benefits and can experience greater immunity as the season wears on. Only injectable flu vaccines have been approved for use this year, nasal vaccines are not recommended. For adults 65 and older, the CDC recommends a higher dose influenza shot. Older people have weaker immune systems and that puts them at an increased risk of catching the flu. Their aging immune systems also do not respond as well to a regular flu shot as those of younger people. The higher dose has four times the amount of influenza antigen and is supposed to result in a better immune response for older people. In clinical studies, the high dose vaccine has been found to be more effective in preventing the flu for seniors and lowered the risk of hospital admissions, especially for those living in long-term care facilities.
In addition to vaccines, the CDC recommends some standard precautions to reduce the spread of flu infection in healthcare settings. During a suspected flu outbreak in a facility, examples of standard precautions include:
· Perform hand hygiene before and after touching the resident, after touching the resident’s environment, or after touching the resident’s respiratory secretions, whether or not gloves are worn. Gloves do not replace the need for performing hand hygiene.
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