Information about COVID-19 is everywhere we turn. Important information. Maine has not seen a case yet, but it’s only a matter of time. In fact, about one dozen people are currently being tested.
Alongside the valid concerns about COVID-19, we should also be mindful that the flu season has not ended yet. In the most recent report from the Maine CDC (March 3), in the week ending February 29, there were still widespread cases. Flu activity is expected to remain high across the country for the next several weeks.
We also need to remain mindful of the fact that influenza can be deadly for older adults. And while COVID-19 is more deadly, right now the flu is more prevalent.
Although we are taking COVID-19 very seriously, when we hear the scary headlines, it’s always a good reminder that even in a mild season, influenza is a serious disease.
Dora Anne Mills, MD, MPH
Chief Health Improvement Officer, MaineHealth
Age as a risk factor
Older people are at greater risk because as we age, the immune system isn’t as robust as it once was, especially if you’re 65 or older. That makes older people more vulnerable to viral and other infections. A weakened immune system also increases the risk of complications from the flu. So does having a chronic health condition, such as diabetes or heart disease.
It’s estimated that between about 70 percent and 85 percent of seasonal flu-related deaths have occurred in people 65 years and older, and between 50 percent and 70 percent of seasonal flu-related hospitalizations have occurred among people in this age group. So, influenza is often quite serious for people 65 and older.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Everybody is encouraged to get an annual flu shot, but especially people who are 65 and older. Because of age-related changes to their immune system they may not respond as well to the vaccine as a younger person. Still, studies have shown that flu vaccination programs in the United States have been effective in reducing the number of cases, as well as medical visits and hospitalizations.
Flu vaccine for people 65 and older
If you are 65 or older you should get the vaccine as a shot, not in a nasal spray. It can be a regular flu shot or one of two that are specifically for older people.
High dose flu vaccine (Fluzone high-dose)
- Contains four times the amount of antigen (the part of the vaccine that prompts the body to make antibody) contained in standard-dose inactivated influenza vaccines. The additional antigen is intended to create a stronger immune response (more antibodies) in the person getting the vaccine. More information.
Adjuvanted influenza vaccine (Fluad)
A standard-dose, three-component (trivalent) inactivated flu vaccine that contains the adjuvant MF59. An adjuvant is an ingredient added to a vaccine that helps create a stronger immune response to vaccination. More information.
Along with a flu shot, no matter what age you are you should be taking the same precautions that we’ve been hearing so much about with COVID-19. That includes staying as healthy as possible.
- Avoid close contact with anyone who is sick.
- Stay home if you are sick.
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Dispose of the tissue and wash your hands with soap and water. Thoroughly.
- Keep your hands (even if you just washed them) away from your face.
- Clean and disinfect surfaces that are frequently touched at home, work, school, wherever, especially if you or someone else is sick.
- Get a good night’s sleep.
- Meditate or do something else to relieve stress and anxiety.
- Eat a healthy diet.
- Drink plenty of fluids.
- Last but not least, wash your hands frequently. Watch the short video below to see when and how we should be washing our hands.
Unlike a cold, the flu can hit you like a ton of bricks. Here are common symptoms.
- Fever, chills
- Sore throat
- Runny or stuffy nose
- Muscle or body aches
- Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, though this is more common in children than adults.
Both influenza and COVID-19 are respiratory illnesses. They’re caused by different viruses but have similar symptoms. According to the CDC, COVID-19 symptoms include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. More information.
As of early March in Maine, if you come down with flu-like symptoms, and you’ve not traveled to where there are widespread COVID-19 outbreaks or have not been exposed to someone with known COVID-19, then you’re more likely to have influenza, and may want to be tested for it.
Dr. Dora Anne Mills
Wash, wash, wash those hands!
I’ll end with a final reminder about handwashing from Maine graphic designer Christine Richards. She created the poster below. Stay well.