Guess What’s Back? (Hint: It’s the Flu)
Looking back over the last few years, have you noticed you battled fewer colds and likely didn’t catch the flu at all? If you did, you’re not alone. For most of us, the precautions put in place to prevent COVID had the happy side effect of also protecting us from the flu. Flu numbers in 2020 and 2021 were lower than normal thanks to handwashing, face masks and social distancing.
Flu season 2023 might be a little bit different. More and more of us are going about our daily lives without masks. We’re also attending in-person events and traveling as we did pre-2020. While a return to normalcy feels exciting, this also means the flu will probably have a bigger impact this year—especially on seniors.
The flu is back in 2023
Of course, the flu isn’t just on the radar this year because some of the stricter COVID restrictions have been lifted. Flu risk for seniors is also higher precisely because of the preceding two milder flu seasons. Fewer of us were infected with the flu than normal, so our natural immunity to it has been reduced.
Typically, the immunity of those who come down with the flu lasts longer than the immunity given by the flu vaccine. With less natural immunity in our community spaces, everyone’s risk is higher.
Keep in mind, the increased impact is an educated forecast from experts, not a guess! The prediction is based on their observations of the flu season in the Southern Hemisphere. For example, Australia’s flu season arrived much earlier than normal in 2022, with spikes in cases two to three months before usual. As expected, this past flu season was Australia’s worst in five years. And while this is not a direct predictor of how bad flu season 2023 will be in the U.S., we should be on alert.
Seniors are at a higher risk during flu season 2023
For seniors, protecting against the flu is especially important. As an older adult, you have a higher risk of complications than the general public, including pneumonia and hospitalization. According to the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, these are not the only complications.
In the first two weeks of having the flu, your risk of heart attack increases three to five times. Similarly, the risk of stroke increases two to three times for those over 65 who have the flu.
Now, we don’t say all this to scare you! But it’s important to understand that flu risk gets worse as you get older. Taking precautions to prevent the flu is essential for seniors because of the potential complications. Fortunately, you can take concrete steps to keep yourself healthy and safe.
Get your flu shot!
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) recommends getting a flu shot every year. Ideally, you should get your flu shot in September or October. But, if you haven’t yet, better late than never! Even if you’ve missed the ideal window, you’re still not too late. Scheduling your flu shot today will bring added protection against the flu and potential complications.
The flu shot needs about a month for its antibodies to take effect. Because of the potential for an earlier flu season this year, some officials are discussing whether a follow-up shot around the peak time might be necessary. Experts haven’t reached a consensus on this yet, so there is currently no recommendation to get a second shot. But do keep an eye out for this news to be released!
What we do know right now is that the CDC does recommend seniors over 65 get the higher-dose or “adjuvanted” flu shot. Studies show these two shots create a greater immune response in seniors specifically. Ask your doctor or pharmacist about these options when you schedule your 2023 flu shot.
Take care of yourself
Above all, take care of yourself this flu season! If you start to feel sick, staying home is a good idea. Keep yourself healthy by washing your hands frequently and avoiding touching your face. Taking these steps helps prevent the flu from spreading to yourself or those around you.
And don’t forget, the flu shot is the best protection during this high-risk season. Schedule yours today!
image credit: shutterstock/Space_Cat