As we pass through the colors of fall and dip into the chill of the forthcoming winter, it is also time to prepare for the flu season. There are plenty of great resources to learn about influenza in general that we recommend (the CDC, www.flu.gov), but here we’ll just review the basics and focus on what flu protection means for someone on hospice and their caregivers.
Note: Although vaccinations are an important part of preparing for flu season, simple and important habits like good handwashing and covering your mouth when coughing are equally significant!
The flu, or the influenza virus, is an infectious disease associated with a fever, runny/stuffy nose, coughs, sore throat, headaches and body aches, fatigue, and nausea. It is most often transmitted through sneezes and coughs and its peak season is typically December and January – so make sure to be careful at all those holiday parties! People most vulnerable to serious flu complications are those with weaker immune systems: the young and the elderly. Additionally, people with chronic health conditions such as any heart disease, lung disease, or asthma are subject to an additional risk for complications. As mentioned previously, hand-washing, coughing, and sneezing etiquette are important means of prevention, but it is also very important to consider receiving the flu vaccine.
- How Often: Vaccinations are recommended every year.
- When: The ideal time to get vaccinated is Oct/Nov, but it is still a good idea to receive vaccination as late as January. The peak of the season is typically December/January.
- Who: Everyone above 6 months of age is recommended to receive the flu shot unless:
- You have allergies to eggs or other elements on the vaccine.
- You ever had Guillain-Barré Syndrome (a severe and paralyzing illness).
- You currently feel sick. Consult with your doctor, but it is a good idea to wait until your immune system is well before taking the vaccine.
- Normal side effects: may include soreness, redness, or swelling where the shot was administered; a low grade fever (below 101); and possibly aches.
- Abnormal side effects: may include dizziness, a high fever, disorientation, difficulty breathing, or a rapid heartbeat. Contact your health provider if you experience any of these symptoms.
Types of Vaccinations
Nowadays, there are a number of different vaccinations, including a nasal spray vaccine. The spray vaccine is only recommended for people 9 to 49 years old, however. For adults 65 and older, there are two recommendations: the standard-dose trivalent shot and the high-dose trivalent shot. Because the immune response to the vaccine from older adults diminishes faster, it is thought that the high dose may provide better season-long protection from the illness. Ongoing research is attempting to verify this (as of 2014). Nevertheless, the CDC has not recommended a preference for either dose yet.
Flu Season & Hospice
For those involved with hospice care, the flu season is addressed with extraordinary care. The CDC provides a startling estimation that 90% of seasonal flu-related deaths occur in people 65 years and older. Thus, all appropriate precautions are taken to prevent becoming a part of this statistic.
The individual under hospice care should strongly consider receiving a vaccination if their immune system is not already under stress. Caregivers should be even more cautious, often encountering more exposure to sources of infection than the patient. In addition to a vaccination, caregivers should also emphasize prudence while out of the house, avoiding contact with sick individuals and always practicing good hand hygiene. Make sure visitors are healthy and practice the same standards of hygiene while visiting.
On our behalf, Bear Valley Hospice provides vaccinations to all staff and consistent training on infection control and hygienic techniques. If you have any questions, ask us! We also provide flu vaccinations to hospice patients as appropriate, but only with their permission.
The fall is a beautiful time, especially here in Big Bear, but it is also an important time to prepare for the flu season. Brush up on your knowledge about the flu and common sicknesses. Remember to practice good handwashing and overall hygiene. Consider receiving a flu vaccination. And always remember we’re here to answer any questions!
Take care and enjoy the coming holidays! 🙂