The Flu season is just around the corner, especially with the weather changing from Fall to Winter. The Flu, commonly called Influenza, is a respiratory virus that can affect people of all ages. Common symptoms of the flu are fever, chills, sore throat, stuffy nose, headache, and muscle aches. Although anyone can get influenza, many seniors are known to be most affected by it. The flu can be even more serious to a person’s health if it proceeds down to the lungs. Seniors, above every one else may develop major complications to the virus. One of these complications is pneumonia. Below are the signs and symptoms of the flu, as well as, knowing the difference between the common Cold and Influenza.
The Difference between a Cold and the Flu
Both the Flu and the common cold may present similar symptoms, such as they are both very contagious and are categorized as respiratory illnesses. Yet the flu is considered much worse and can send a person into an emergency room situation. As far as the common cold, more children over adults will catch one. Yet children can easily pass a cold, or symptoms of it, to their parents. To prevent the spread of the common cold, wash your hands frequently. Here are some other differences, as well as the signs you need to look for if you have the flu:
- Caused by a number of different viruses
- Common to seasonal occurrences
- Can be passed from one to another
- Mild symptoms of discomfort, such a runny or stuffy nose
- Occasional sore throat
- Do not necessarily result in hospitalizations
- May cause some tiredness or fatigue
- Sneezing is common
The Flu or Influenza:
- Caused by influenza viruses only
- Persistent pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen
- Body aches, headache, chills and fatigue
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Severe muscle pain
- Seizures may occur
- Pneumonia or bacterial infections can occur
- Vomiting and diarrhea (more common among children)
- Worsening of chronic medical conditions
- Hospitalizations are common
Complications from the Flu
For most people who suffer from the flu have it for about two weeks or so. Of course, it depends on how fast you receive proper treatments to relieve the symptoms and pain of going through the flu. In some people, such as seniors (people over 65), it can take a little longer to recover from it, sine their immune system is not as strong as younger people. Also, complications of the flu are much more common with the elderly. Here are some of these complications:
- Kidney problems
- Liver problems
- Heart problems
- Chronic lung disease
- Obesity issues
- An illness that causes them to take steroids or other medication like chemotherapy that weaken the immune system
What are some complications of both the common cold and the Flu?
According to the CDC, Bacterial pneumonia, ear infections, and sinus infections are all types of complications of both the common cold and the flu.
Are there different types of the Influenza virus?
There are actually four types of the flu. Most people however, get diagnosed with either Influenza A or B. Seniors or the elderly are more than likely get type A. Below are brief descriptions of all four types of the Influenza virus.
This type of Influenza is by far the most common among people who are diagnosed with the flu. It is known to cause most, if not all types of outbreaks and epidemics nationwide and around the world. Influenza A can affect both humans and animals, such as pigs and wild birds. This is one reason why it carries the disease from one country to the next very easily. This type of the flu, along with type B, is sometimes referred as seasonal flu viruses. Type A is often the culprit of many flu pandemics of both the 20th and 21st centuries.
The next common type is Influenza B, which is the reasons for about 20 percent of flu infections and causes most of the cases each year nationwide. On a good note, it only survives in humans, and possibly seals.
This is basically the least common type or strand of influenza viruses found around the world. This type may cause mild cases of illnesses. It is passed through humans and swine. At the moment, there is no known flu vaccine for type C; however, there are no epidemic cases either.
This type of flu virus mainly infects cattle. There is no known cause of illness to human beings.
Tests that Healthcare Professionals use to determine if you have the Influenza
Rapid Influenza Diagnostic Test (RIDT)
This test is considered the most common one offered by health professionals; however, it is not always accurate. It is called “rapid” due to that results take less than 15 minutes to complete. Basically, you doctor has to rub a cotton swab inside your nose or the back of your throat to collect a sample.
Rapid Molecular Assays
The next one, Rapid Molecular Assays, are more accurate than the RIDTs. In addition, they determine the genetic makeup of influenza in people suffering from the flu. The test is fairly quick as well; about 20 minutes. The procedure is the same as the RIDT testings.
This test can be even more accurate than he first two types of Influenza tests. However, they also take longer to get results. Plus, they are somewhat expensive to conduct. This type of testing for the flu can detect the antigens of the influenza virus itself, by using a fluorescent microscope. The test takes about two hours to complete. According to the World Health Organization, this type of testing is most often used to confirm a positive RIDT test, and during the off-season, when low influenza cases are uncommon.
You are more at risk for flu and its complications if you:
- Are age 65 or older
- Have certain medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes, or chronic kidney disease
- Lung disease or HIV patients
- Have heart disease or have had a stroke
- Live in a nursing home or other long-term care facility
- Are Pregnant or have young children under five in the home
Places to get the Flu Vaccine
Most people receive the flu vaccine from their own doctor’s office or other health care professional. Other places seniors can get a flu shot or vaccine include a pharmacy, such as CVS, Walgreens, or Rite-Aid; or have one done at a blood-testing lab. Most flu vaccines should be covered by your insurance or if you have Medicare. Because of the Affordable Care Act, private insurers must now cover preventative care to the insured, this includes flu shots. If you have Medicare Part B, then the shot should be free.
In addition to getting the flu vaccine, seniors can also help stop the spread of flu by:
- Washing your hands often with soap and water
- Use an alcohol-based hand rub, especially after coughing or sneezing
- Covering your mouth when you cough or sneeze
- Cough into the upper part of your sleeve to prevent spreading germs
- Avoiding touching your eyes, nose, or mouth
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
- Staying home when you are sick
- Cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces at home, work, or school
- Get plenty of sleep, be physically active
- Manage your stress levels
- Drink plenty of fluids
Care and Treatment
According to the CDC, the best way seniors can protect themselves against the flu is by getting a flu shot every year. A virus can spread rapidly throughout a community, especially during flu season, which starts n early October and goes to May, at times. So, getting your flu shot will lower your chances of getting sick. However, there are some antiviral drugs that may be used to treat the flu, for those who have not got their vaccine yet. However, there are most effective within the first 24 to 48 hours of when symptoms start or begin to show. Antiviral drugs can also lessen symptoms, shorten the time you are sick, and help you recover better. They may prevent some flu complications as well.
Cold and Flu Prevention Tips for Older Adults
Although some of these may have been mentioned shortly before, here are some more detailed information on how to stay healthy, while preventing colds and flus in seniors.
1. Wash or sanitize hands thoroughly and often
One of the best way to keep germs away is by washing your hands for at least 20 seconds. Think of the Birthday song, and hum it in your head twice. Cleaning under the nails, behind the hands, and in between fingers can also help eliminate germs. If you find yourself away from a sink, it is always good to sanitize them with a bottle of sanitizer of at least 60% alcohol to eliminate unwanted germs and bacteria. Older adults should keep a sanitizer with them everywhere they go.
2. Clean the environment to eliminate germs
Using disinfectant on all surfaces, especially in the kitchen and bathrooms. And don’t forget to clean hot spots, such as door knobs and handles, light switches, and countertops. This will help keep your homes germ-free longer. Also, use disinfectant sponges or rags, and changing them out frequently.
3. Sanitize your mobile devices
Can you honestly state how often you wipe down your mobile phone? Most people don’t even think about it. They may pick it up while they eat, going to the supermarket, and even when going to the bathroom. The phones could be full of germs! Cleaning them on a regular basis with sanitizing wipes or rubbing alcohol can help reduce the chance of spreading more germs. Just be careful not to get them wet, they will then be useless.
4. Avoid crowds and unnecessary travel
The worst place to be when you’re sick is in a crowded room. It is not only good for you, but there are a higher chance of passing your sickness to others. Staying home and recovering on your own will help you get better faster. By going outside or to work, people with flu-like symptoms may spread the virus to others in just one day of exposure, according the National Institute on Aging.
5. Add Vitamin C and plenty of protein in your diet
There have been food studies that show adding some Vitamin C can help reduce the chances of sickness or becoming ill. However, only in small amounts, since most food products with Vitamin C tend to be sweet, such as oranges and other fruits. Although it is best to get Vitamin C through food, taking a supplement is also a good way to get the right amount of Vitamin C in your diet. Seniors should also add protein to their meals, such as fish, eggs, yogurt, or poultry (skinless), to help build up their immunity to sickness. Another suggestion is having a bowl of chicken soup. It could be veery beneficial to your body and the steam from hot soup will open your nasal passages, while the broth can sooth your throat.
6. Avoid taking decongestants
Some decongestants contain certain ingredients that can increase a senior’s heart rate, raise blood pressure, and also cause sleep interruptions, which is not good when you are already sick. Although, talking to your doctor first is recommended before stopping any over-the-counter meds or prescriptions.
7. Stay physically active
Stay on the move, even when you don’t feel well. Laying too much in bed is not healthy for your body when you are sick. You don’t necessarily need to walk a marathon, but you should keep your body physically active.
8. Get plenty of rest
Not trying to contradict the previous tip, but you might want to rest periodically if you have a cold or the flu. Meaning, don’t overexert yourself too much. When you do take a nap, lie down at a 45-degree angle; some believe his may help with reducing inflammation.
9. Use a humidifier
This is somewhat controversial. Some doctors say this can be beneficial by allowing moist air to help open nasal passages, soothe sore throats, and hacking coughs. However, seniors should make sure their humidifier is working well and it is clean before each use. After you are done, make sure you wipe it down with warm, soapy water to get rid of any germs.