Kathryn Clinton
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HomeSeniorsFor older adults, it’s not ‘just the flu’
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For older adults, it’s not ‘just the flu’

Mar 17, 2019 - 01:33

“I’m not the same person. The person before just kind of took life for granted. And now I cherish every moment I have because I know it can be taken away very quickly.”

Lisa Pellerin, a mother and a nurse, shared these words as she recounted an experience so devastating to her health that it changed her entire perspective on life. It wasn’t cancer. It wasn’t a heart attack.

It was the flu.

Surprisingly, the flu is a source of worry for only 8 percent of adults 50 years of age and older, according to a recent survey. And, even if they were to get the flu, the majority (80 percent) only saw themselves as being at average or below average risk for flu-related complications. For some, these misperceptions could be dangerous.

Adults 50 years of age and older are more likely than younger age groups to have a chronic illness, such as asthma or other lung disease, heart disease or diabetes. Flu can exacerbate symptoms of these conditions and lead to serious complications, like pneumonia – or sometimes even death.

Flu and chronic health conditions

According to the CDC, about 70 percent of adults ages 50 to 64 have at least one chronic illness. Lisa is among this group, living with both asthma and diabetes. All it took was one day for the flu to land her in the hospital. “I just kept getting worse. I was in the hospital for three weeks. Everyone thought I was going to die,” she said. Lisa continues to struggle with shortness of breath and a persistent cough, but she’s grateful to be alive.

After receiving a chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) diagnosis, Jim Piette still enjoyed fishing, hunting and woodworking – until he got the flu. “Now, I’m on oxygen 24/7,” he said. “I can’t do much without running out of air.” After a year and a half, Jim still hasn’t been able to resume all his usual activities.

Take the precaution: Get the shot

Vaccination is the best way to help protect people, including older adults, from the flu and help reduce the risk of flu-related hospitalization and death. That’s why the American Lung Association created the MyShot campaign in collaboration with Sanofi Pasteur. The campaign helps educate adults 50 years of age and older about the potential dangers of flu and the critical importance of getting a flu shot every year.

The CDC recommends that people get a flu vaccine by the end of October. However, getting vaccinated later can still be beneficial and vaccination continues to be offered throughout flu season. For adults, it’s important to know that there are multiple options depending on your age and whether you have one or more chronic health conditions. A doctor can advise which option may be right for each individual, taking into consideration age and other factors such as chronic health conditions.

It’s not about one person – it’s about everyone in your life

Flu vaccination helps protect more than just the people who receive them – they help prevent the spread of influenza to their family, friends, colleagues and communities, and especially those more vulnerable to the flu such as infants and young children and those with weakened immune systems. JoJo O’Neal’s bout with the flu turned into a family issue, infecting not only JoJo, but her sister who has COPD, and her niece. “I started to realize my health decisions can impact others,” she said. Now, she does everything she can to help protect herself and others from the flu, which always includes getting her annual flu vaccination.

If you or someone you love is 50 years of age or older, go to to learn more and speak with your healthcare provider about flu vaccine options that may be right for you.

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