The seasonal flu can be serious for everybody. So serious, in fact, that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that nearly everyone get a flu vaccine. This is particularly true for seniors (adults 65 and older), reports Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Missouri.
As people age, it becomes more difficult for them to fight illness. As a result, older adults are at greater risk of serious flu-related complications, including pneumonia, hospitalization and even death. According to Flu.gov, a website collaboration of several government agencies, 90 percent of flu-related deaths and more than half of flu-related hospitalizations occur in people age 65 and older.
Fortunately, seniors can take measures to protect themselves by being vaccinated against both the flu and pneumonia. Unfortunately, one-third of people age 65 and older do not get their annual influenza shots and more than one-third have never been vaccinated against pneumonia, according to the CDC. With the flu season under way, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Missouri is urging those 65 and older to get vaccinated against the flu and pneumonia.
"With few exceptions, there really is no reason for seniors not to get their vaccines, including their flu and pneumonia vaccines," said Wayne Meyer, M.D., medical director at Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Missouri. "Studies have shown that these vaccines are generally safe and effective. They also are easy to get and typically paid for by Medicare."
Following are some things Anthem wants seniors to know about vaccines and flu season, the group noted.
Flu Vaccine: Flu shots this year address three viruses, including the H1N1 virus, the H3N2 virus and an influenza B virus. While the H1N1 virus used to make the 2012-2013 flu vaccine is the same virus that was included in the 2011-2012 vaccine, the influenza H3N2 and B vaccine viruses are different from those in the 2011-2012 influenza vaccine for the Northern Hemisphere.
Pneumonia, too: Even some people who get the flu vaccine forget to get the pneumonia vaccine. According to the CDC, seniors should get both. Unlike the annual flu shot, most people need to get the pneumonia vaccine only once, although under some circumstances a second dose may be needed, according to the CDC. It is important for seniors to keep good records about their vaccination history, the CDC says.
Easy Does It: Getting vaccinated is easy for Medicare beneficiaries and their pocketbooks. Most people get the vaccines at their primary care physician's office. Additionally, many flu vaccine clinics are offered. The shot also is increasingly available at pharmacies and retail locations. The costs of both vaccines and their administration are generally covered by Medicare Part B, as long as the provider accepts Medicare patients.iii
Safety First: There's a common misperception that the flu shot can give people the flu. It can't. Flu shots are inactivated vaccines containing killed viruses ___ they aren't live so they can't cause infection, according to flu.gov.iv Manufacturers kill the viruses while making the vaccine and batches are tested to ensure safety. In addition to the shots, there is a flu mist made from a weakened form of the virus, but it isn't recommended for seniors, according to the CDC. Like flu shots, pneumonia shots are made from inactivated materials.v
Never Too Late: It's a good idea to get the flu vaccine as soon as it's available in the fall. However, since influenza activity typically doesn't peak until January or February, it's still worth getting the vaccine as late as January. The pneumonia vaccine is offered year round. Health plans like Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Missouri send reminders to their members about the importance of being vaccinated.
Follow Doctor's Orders: Even though flu and pneumonia vaccines are recommended for seniors there are some exceptions, so be sure to follow your doctor's orders. For example, flu vaccines are not recommended for people severely allergic to chicken eggs or those who had a bad reaction in the past.
Everyday Precautions: According to the CDC, the flu spreads mainly when people with the flu cough, sneeze or talk. For that reason, it's a good idea to avoid close contact with infected people and to keep your hands away from your eyes, nose and mouth. Other good flu-fighting tips include maintaining healthy habits, such as washing hands with soap and water, getting plenty of sleep, being physically active, managing stress, drinking plenty of liquids and eating nutritious foods.
For more information about the dangers of flu and the benefits of vaccinations, talk to a health care provider or visit www.cdc.gov/ flu. A list of flu clinics is available by going to www.flu.gov and plugging in a zip code.
This information is intended for educational purposes only and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider for advice about treatments that may affect your health.
In Missouri (excluding 30 counties in the Kansas City area) Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield is the trade name for RightCHOICE Managed Care, Inc. (RIT), Healthy Alliance Life Insurance Company (HALIC), and HMO Missouri, Inc. RIT and certain affiliates administer non-HMO benefits underwritten by HALIC and HMO benefits underwritten by HMO Missouri, Inc. RIT and certain affiliates only provide administrative services for self-funded plans and do not underwrite benefits.
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