Risk of Flu-Related Hospitalization in Older Adults is High This Season

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 200,000 Americans are hospitalized for flu-related complications every year. Typically, the CDC reports, 90% of flu-related deaths and more than half of flu-related hospitalizations occur in people aged 65 years and older. Since October 1, 2012, 3710 confirmed influenza-associated hospitalizations have been reported. Of these cases, 46% of them have been among adults aged 65 years and older. Older adults are among the highest risk of flu and flu-related complications.

To prevent patients from becoming part of these statistics, advising them to receive the flu vaccination is the first and most important step. As of January 4, 2013, 135 million doses of the flu vaccine were produced, with 128 million doses having been distributed. While the flu vaccine does not guarantee immunity to the influenza virus, in recent years, those who are vaccinated are 60% less likely to require treatment, thus resulting in reduced flu-related complications, antibiotic use, time lost from work, hospitalizations, and deaths.

The flu season typically peaks in January and February; however, if your patients haven’t been vaccinated yet, it’s not too late, as the virus can linger well into the spring. Patients should also be vaccinated even if they have already been sick this season because there are multiple strains of the influenza virus. Even after receiving the vaccination, patients should be advised to practice the following healthy habits to strengthen their immune system:

  • Washing hands often
  • Limiting exposure to infected people and crowds
  • Keeping stress in check
  • Eating a well-balanced diet
  • Sleeping for the recommended 8 hours per night
  • Exercising regularly

As a healthcare provider, make sure your patients recognize the distinct differences between the shorter lasting stuffy and runny nose with an itchy throat and the fever, headache, chills, aches, and fatigue of the longer lasting flu. Knowing the difference between a common cold and the flu can make the difference between early treatment or hospitalization.

Patients over the age of 65, nursing home residents, and those with heart and lung disorders are at a higher risk for the influenza virus. For more information regarding the 2012-2013 influenza season, visit the CDC Website ( www.cdc.gov) and the FDA Website ( www.fda.gov).