Cold and flu season is upon us once again, and both seniors and caregivers are susceptible to contracting a flu virus during this period of increased infection outbreak. Older adults are vulnerable to the flu due to declining immune function, as we get older the body is just not able to fight off illness and disease with same efficacy that it used to. Caregivers are also at a higher risk, as they tend to spend a lot of time with ailing seniors, and many caregivers also have compromised immunity from lack of quality sleep and chronic stress.
Seniors should be especially diligent in taking the available precautions for flu prevention, as they are not only more prone to getting the flu, but also more likely to experience complications and more serious health issues as a result.
There are many things that can be done to help reduce the risk of catching a flu bug, and education is a good start, to understand exactly how the virus works to make it more easily preventable.
What are the different types of flu virus?
The flu is characterized by an infection of the nose, throat, and lungs, and there are two main categories of viruses:
- Influenza A
- Influenza B
There are actually 4 types of flu viruses, influenza A, B, C, and D. However, only types A & B are relevant to seasonal outbreaks. The main difference between type A and type B being that influenza B is found only in humans, while influenza A is found in a variety of species, making this type of the virus more diverse and difficult to combat.
How is the flu virus spread?
The flu virus can spread very quickly from person to person from touching contaminated surfaces and unwashed hands. This process is known as cross contamination when the virus gets spread from one person to another. High contact, high risk surfaces include:
- Countertops and tables
- Washroom doors and surfaces
- Another person’s hands or skin
The virus can also be passed on through coughing, sneezing, and even talking if saliva droplets containing the virus get into the eyes, nose, or mouth.
Best Practices for Flu Prevention in Cold & Flu Season
There are several helpful tips that can help prevent contracting the flu this winter for older adults. Some useful approaches, include:
- Get vaccinated
- Practice diligent hand hygiene
- Use a sanitizing cleaner
- Avoid high risk areas
- Healthy diet
- Regular exercise
One of the most effective ways to avoid getting the flu is to get vaccinated at least once a year, and the best time to do it is during the period ramping up to cold and flu season. So, if you have not yet had your flu shot, now is the time to do it.
It is recommended for both seniors and caregivers to get the influenza vaccine to boost the immune system’s defense against the continually adapting virus strains. There are two types of influenza vaccinations that are suggested for older adults to provide enhanced protection.
The High Dose Flu Vaccine offers 4 times the antigen content as the regular flu vaccine. According to studies, the high dose flu shot can significantly reduce flu infection in people over 65, and in one trial the result was around a 25% decrease in flu cases compared to the regular vaccine.
The Adjuvanted Flu Vaccine is another recommended flu shot for seniors. Adjuvants have been proven to create a stronger immune response, improving the protective capability of the vaccine.
Diligent Hand Hygiene
Unwashed hands is one of the quickest ways infectious germs get spread from person to person. Regular handwashing is an effective way to reduce the risk of cross contamination.
Use a disinfecting cleaner for sanitizing surfaces in the home is another good preventative method. Especially in the kitchen and bathroom, keeping the areas clean and sanitized can be a big help. Cleaning is not the same as disinfecting, so for the best results it is important to use a cleaner that disinfects against harmful bacteria and viruses.
Avoiding High Risk Areas
Another useful tactic is to avoid crowds, busy spots with poor ventilation, and places where germs tend to congregate like hospitals, daycares, and the like. Planes are the absolute worst, so travel during this time is certainly a high risk venture. With zero ventilation and so many people packed into a tight little spot, airplanes are an incubator for infectious disease.
Aside from vaccines, an excellent way to boost the immune system is by eating food that is rich in nutrients and protein, and low in fat and sugar. Processed foods offer very little nutritional value, so the focus should be on fresh fruit, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, healthy carbs, and quality fish and chicken.
Regular exercise goes hand in hand with good nutrition to build up the immune system. Low impact activity on a daily basis can keep the muscles active and prevent soreness and stiffness. A great activity is to get out for a walk to get some fresh air, as flu germs are typically passed in stagnant air indoor areas.