Doctor answers common questions seniors ask about H1N1 flu

By Dr. Balu Gadhe
CareMore Health Plan

Many doctors are being asked by their senior patients about their risk for the H1N1 virus. Here are a few key answers to inform seniors about what they need to do to prepare for this year’s flu season.

Are people 65 and older at risk for contracting the H1N1 influenza?
Most seniors have some immunity to H1N1 flu virus because of prior immunization history. This makes them less likely to contract the H1N1 virus, and thus are not recommended to get early doses of the flu vaccine.

Why isn’t this age group included in early-dose vaccinations?
Studies indicate less than two per 100,000 people aged 65 and older have contracted this flu strain. By contrast, people between six months to 24 years of age are 15 to 20 times more likely to be infected and become seriously ill. Limited supplies of the vaccine will be available at first and will be recommended for those most likely to contract 2009 H1NI.

What should those 65 and older do?
This age group is more likely to catch seasonal flu than 2009 H1N1 and should get a seasonal flu shot as soon as possible. Additionally, they should protect themselves by washing hands frequently with soap and warm water or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Seniors should avoid touching their eyes, nose, or mouth and try to avoid contact with people who are sick (especially if they have fever, cough and a sore throat). Get plenty of sleep, exercise regularly, manage stress, drink plenty of fluids, and eat nutritious foods.

Will 2009 H1N1 vaccine be available for those 65 and over?
Yes, after the high-risk groups have been vaccinated. The government has purchased 250 million doses of the vaccine so there will be enough for the population. Those 65 and over are more at risk for seasonal flu than H1N1 and should receive their seasonal flu vaccine as soon as possible.

What is considered a high-risk group?
“High risk groups,” as defined by the CDC, include the following:

· Pregnant women
· People living with or caring for infants under six months of age
· Emergency medical services personnel and health care workers
· Children and young adults from six months through 24 years
· People aged 25 through 64 years with chronic medical conditions like heart or lung disease, asthma, diabetes, or weakened immune systems

Generally, high-risk groups include those with certain chronic medical conditions, including chronic lung problems such as asthma, heart, liver, blood, nervous system, muscular, or metabolic disorders such as diabetes. Those 65 and older who have immunodeficiency or immuno-suppression conditions, including that caused by medications such as corticosteroids and chemotherapy, or diseases such as HIV/AIDS, could be at risk of 2009 H1N1. Consult your physician if you have questions about your health condition.

What should high-risk populations do to avoid the H1N1 influenza?
Those 65 or older who are considered high-risk should be vaccinated for the 2009 H1N1 flu in addition to their normal seasonal flu shot.

What should those 65 and older do if they feel they have the flu?
Seek medical advice quickly. Those 65 or older are prioritized to get antiviral drugs if they become ill with the flu. Although this age group is much less likely to catch the 2009 H1N1 flu, they are more likely to suffer serious complications and are prioritized for antiviral drugs.

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