HealthLinkBC File #12a, September 2012
Why Seniors Should Get the Influenza (Flu) Vaccine
- What should seniors know about the influenza vaccine?
- When should seniors get the influenza vaccine?
- Influenza Vaccination for Caregivers
- Who should not get the influenza vaccine?
- What is influenza?
- How does influenza spread?
- How serious is influenza?
What should seniors know about the influenza vaccine?
The influenza or flu vaccine is a safe and effective way to help people stay healthy, prevent illness, and even save lives. As people age, they may be at higher risk of complications from influenza. For this reason, seniors age 65 years and older are advised to get an influenza vaccine each year.
The influenza vaccine is provided free to seniors. Contact your health care provider or local public health unit to get your influenza vaccine.
The influenza vaccine is safe. The influenza vaccines available for seniors contain dead influenza viruses that cannot cause the flu. Common reactions to the vaccine include redness or soreness for 1 or 2 days where the vaccine was given.
Mild symptoms may occur in some people after being immunized, especially those receiving the influenza vaccine for the first time. Symptoms can include fever, headache and aching muscles, and can start within 6 to 12 hours and end within 24 to 48 hours after the vaccine was given. These symptoms are less severe and last a shorter time compared to influenza infection.
When should seniors get the influenza vaccine?
It is important for seniors to get the influenza vaccine before the flu season starts.
In British Columbia, the vaccine is usually available in October. For best protection, you should try to get the influenza vaccine as soon as possible. This gives your body enough time – about 2 weeks – to build immunity before the flu season starts. This immunity lasts through the flu season which usually ends in April.
In addition to the influenza vaccine, seniors should be immunized against pneumococcal disease. The pneumococcal vaccine protects against infections of the brain, bloodstream, lungs, or ear. It is safe to get the influenza and pneumococcal vaccines at the same time. Most people only need 1 dose of pneumococcal vaccine and will not need a booster dose.
For information about pneumococcal infection and vaccine, see HealthLinkBC File #62b Pneumococcal Polysaccharide Vaccine.
Influenza Vaccination for Caregivers
Influenza immunization is encouraged and provided free for family members, caregivers, and household contacts of seniors.
Who should not get the influenza vaccine?
Speak with a health care provider if you:
- had a life-threatening reaction to a previous dose of influenza vaccine, or any component of the vaccine;
- had severe oculo-respiratory syndrome (a cough, sore throat, hoarseness or red eyes) after getting an influenza vaccine;
- have a serious allergy to eggs. People with mild egg allergies can be safely immunized with the influenza vaccine.
- developed Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS) within 8 weeks of getting an influenza vaccine.
GBS is a rare condition that can result in weakness and paralysis of the body's muscles. It most commonly occurs after infection, but in rare cases can also occur after some vaccines. GBS may be associated with influenza vaccine in about 1 per million recipients.
What is influenza?
Influenza is an infection of the upper airway caused by the influenza virus.
Symptoms can include fever, headache, muscle pain, runny nose, sore throat, extreme tiredness, and cough. Although infections from other viruses may have similar symptoms, those due to the influenza virus tend to be worse.
You can reduce the risk of getting influenza or spreading it to others by:
- washing your hands regularly;
- promptly disposing of used tissues in the waste basket or garbage;
- coughing and sneezing into your shirt sleeve rather than your hands;
- staying home when you are ill; and
- getting the influenza vaccine.
How does influenza spread?
Influenza spreads easily from person to person through coughing, sneezing, or having face-to-face contact. The virus can also spread when a person touches tiny droplets from a cough or a sneeze on another person or object and then touches their own eyes, mouth or nose before washing their hands.
Symptoms can begin about 1 to 4 days, or an average of 2 days, after a person is first exposed to the influenza virus. Fever and other symptoms usually last 7 to 10 days, but the cough and weakness may last 1 to 2 weeks longer.
An infected person can spread the influenza virus even before feeling sick. An adult can spread the virus from about 1 day before to 5 days after symptoms start. Young children may shed virus longer, up to 21 days after symptoms start.
How serious is influenza?
Influenza reduces the body's ability to fight other infections. Bacterial pneumonia, which is an infection of the lungs, is the most common complication from influenza, especially in elderly people. Influenza can also lead to more complications for people who have heart, lung or other health conditions. These complications can sometimes be fatal.
For more information
For more information on influenza, see the following HealthLinkBC Files:
For more HealthLinkBC File topics, visit www.HealthLinkBC.ca/healthfiles/ or your local public health unit.
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