The seasonal flu can be very serious for everybody. So serious, in fact, that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently recommended that nearly everyone get a flu vaccine. This is particularly true for seniors (adults 65 and older).
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, 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. 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 Dr. Karen Amstutz, medical director of Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Missouri's state sponsored and senior businesses. "Studies have shown that these vaccines are generally safe and effective. They are also easy to get and typically paid for by Medicare. Yet statistics show us that about a third of seniors don't get these much-needed vaccines. That's something we've got to change."
Following are some things Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Missouri wants seniors to know about vaccines and cold and flu season.
Double Dose: Even some people who get the flu vaccine forget to get the pneumonia vaccine. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), seniors should really get both. The good news is they can get them at the same time, according to the CDC. However, there are some differences between the vaccines. The flu shot needs to be administered annually. This year's version includes protection against the 2009 H1N1 virus and two other flu viruses: Influenza A H3N2 and Influenza B. In contrast, most people will need to get the pneumonia vaccine only once, although under some circumstances a second dose may be given, 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 open to the public are offered across the country. The costs of both vaccines and their administration are generally covered by Medicare Part B, as long as the provider accepts assignment.
Safety First: Flu shots are inactivated vaccines containing killed viruses - they aren't live so they can't cause infection, according to flu.gov, a website collaboration of several government agencies. Manufacturers kill the viruses while making the vaccine and batches are tested to ensure safety. Similarly, the pneumonia vaccine is made from a bacterial component that is not infectious. 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.
"Many people fear they will get the flu or pneumonia from the vaccine and that just isn't the case, according to the CDC," said Wayne Meyer, M.D., medical director for Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Missouri.
Never Too Late: It's a good idea to get the flu vaccine as soon as it's available, which is in the fall. However, since influenza activity typically doesn't peak until January or February, it's still a good idea to get the vaccine as late as January, and even beyond. National Influenza Vaccination Week (NIVW) was established to highlight the importance of continuing vaccination later into the season. This year's NIVW was held Dec. 5-11. For its part, 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 - and many others - 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 by droplets made 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, according to the CDC, 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. 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.
Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Missouri - 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. Independent licensees of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association. ® ANTHEM is a registered trademark of Anthem Insurance Companies, Inc. The Blue Cross and Blue Shield names and symbols are registered marks of the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association.