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An overview of the flu in seniors

Medical professionals have long recognized that seniors are at a high risk of developing complications from influenza, otherwise known as the flu. While flu symptoms such as a cough, sore throat, fever, and fatigue are common among all age groups, they can be a larger source of concern for people 65 and older. In fact, according to some healthcare industry estimates, seniors have accounted for about 70 percent of the seasonal-flu related deaths and hospitalizations in recent years.

With that mind, how can you tell if the symptoms you’re experiencing are signs of influenza and not the common cold? After all, the conditions share a number of symptoms, including headaches and a runny nose. Flu symptoms, however, are more severe and longer lasting. If your symptoms are especially bad and have persisted for more than three days, it’s quite likely that you have the flu. If you’re 65 or older and suspect you have the flu, or if you’re caring for a senior who does, you should consult a medical professional if:

  • Symptoms either do not improve or worsen after three days
  • Breathing difficulties emerge
  • Symptoms improve but nausea, vomiting, chest pain, or sever chills set in

Any of these can be signs of a serious complication, particularly among seniors with:

  • Kidney problems
  • Diabetes
  • Asthma
  • Heart problems
  • Liver problems
  • Obesity issues
  • Chronic lung disease
  • Chest congestion & cough


If this is an emergency, please call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department.

Treating the flu in seniors

A bout of the flu can lead to complications whether you’re an otherwise healthy senior or are dealing with another health issue. Complications include pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus and ear infections, and even heart attacks. That’s why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends prompt treatment for seniors with the flu. Simple at-home treatment includes drinking plenty of water and getting lots of rest. Over-the-counter medications can also help, but you should ask your doctor first, as some medications can interfere with prescription drugs or exacerbate certain medical conditions.

A doctor can also prescribe antiviral drugs to treat the flu and prevent complications, but treatment should begin as soon as possible, ideally within 48 hours after the onset of symptoms. In simple terms, antiviral drugs stop the flu virus from reproducing within the body, and thus, can make the illness less severe and help you recover faster.

The flu vaccine: a good dose of prevention

The most effective method of flu prevention is an annual vaccine. A vaccine protects you by producing an immune response to the influenza virus. There are three types of flu viruses—influenza A, B, and C—the first two being the types most responsible for seasonal flu epidemics. The vaccine covers most strains of A and B. In 2016, the CDC found that seniors who were vaccinated were 57 percent less likely to be hospitalized due to the illness than non-vaccinated people.

Seniors who want more protection can get a high-dose vaccine, which contains four times as much active ingredient as a regular flu shot, and so provides a better immune response. Once administered, it takes about two weeks for the vaccine to protect you. To give your body a chance to build immunity, it’s best to get the vaccine early in the flu season.

Understanding how the flu spreads

Keep in mind, the flu is contagious. The virus spreads from person to person through droplets released into the air, or through bodily contact with surfaces that contain the virus. As a result, you can contract the virus when someone nearby sneezes or coughs, by shaking hands with an infected person, or by touching something that has the virus on it.

People with the flu are most contagious in the first four days of illness, but can infect others before symptoms even develop and up to seven days after the onset of symptoms. Given the number of transmission possibilities, it’s smart to develop healthy habits as a general preventive measure. Here are some steps you can take:

  • Avoid close contact with people who have the flu
  • Stay at home when you’re sick to prevent spreading the illness to others
  • Cover your mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing
  • Wash your hands often with an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap is not available
  • Avoid touching your nose, mouth, or eyes
  • Boost your immune system by exercising often and adhering to a healthy diet
  • Disinfect surfaces in your home regularly—door knobs and light switches, for example

Help from mobile healthcare professionals

Sometimes, despite your best efforts at staying healthy, you fall victim to a case of the flu that just won’t go away. As a senior, getting prompt medical attention should be your next move. In your weakened condition, though, getting dressed and driving several miles to a healthcare facility, only to then endure a long wait to be seen, is hardly a desirable option. That’s when you need at-home urgent care from DisptachHealth. Our qualified medical team can arrive at your home within a couple of hours after you contact us via our app, website, or by phone. We’re equipped with medical tools and supplies to treat a wide range of illnesses, including severe cases of the flu. Whether you need IV fluids for dehydration, a breathing treatment, or pain medication, we can provide it. And, don’t worry, we will write a detailed report about our visit to keep your physician informed.

To make our healthcare services as streamlined as possible, we’ve partnered with major insurance carriers like Humana, Aetna, and Cigna, and accept Medicare and Medicaid as well. With DispatchHealth, you’ll receive fast, convenient, and affordable flu treatment that’s equally as effective as emergency room care for non-life-threatening situations—just what you need to get on the road to full recovery.