Q: What do I need to do to prepare for the upcoming flu season?

A: The flu season begins in October and usually peaks between December and February. Older adults are more likely to have slower immune response and have higher risk of infection and complications from the flu. In fact, approximately 90% of influenza-related deaths and 50-70% of influenza-related hospitalizations occur among people aged 65 and older. For this reason alone, it is recommended to get the flu vaccine every year.

While it is impossible to fully predict the type of flu season we will have, expects can get a pretty good idea by examining the Southern Hemisphere for an indication of what to expect. Unfortunately, what they are seeing this year is that Australia has had the worst flu season in five years, and it arrived earlier than usual. It is time to get prepared, get your flu shot and take all precautions.

Along with what we are seeing in the Southern Hemisphere, we also know that the last two years have been a milder flu season in the US, most likely because of the extra precautions people were taking to protect themselves against COVID-19. This year, with less restrictions in place and less natural immunity from past years exposure, more people may be infected by the flu.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends getting your flu shot by the end of October. The CDC recommends that adults age 65 and older get the higher-dose or adjuvanted flu vaccine. They have been shown to evoke a stronger immune response in older adults and can offer greater protection against illness. Getting the vaccine will not guarantee you do not get the flu, but will reduce the severity of the flu and the risk of serious complications.

Even after getting your flu vaccine, it is always a good idea to consider other ways to maintain your health and strengthen your immune response. Stay home and rest if you feel run down and avoid others who are ill. Focus on getting enough rest and reducing your stress.

Stay hydrated and focus on a healthy diet to take care of your body. Clean frequently touched surfaces often. It is also a good idea to prepare your home with supplies in the event you do get sick so that you already have what you need to stay home and recover.

Preparing your home in case of illness is good planning for all types of emergencies. Be sure to have fever and pain reducers on hand, extra food and water, a thermometer, and have a plan for getting supplies and medications.

If you do become ill it can be difficult to differentiate if you have the flu or COVID-19, as many of the symptoms can be the same. However, the causes, complications and treatments differ. Consult with your doctor if you have symptoms. Most mild symptoms of either one can be treated at home. However, it is always good to consult your doctor especially if you have other chronic health conditions that may put you at an increased risk. The doctor can advise you of how to treat your symptoms and what to look out for to indicate more treatment is needed.

With all the attention on COVID-19 in the past years it is important to remind ourselves to watch out for the flu this year. Be proactive and focus on staying health and happy this fall and winter season.

Martha Shapiro can be reached at Senior Concerns at 805-497-0189 or by email at mshapiro@seniorconcerns.org.

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