Seniors at risk during flu season

Most pharmacies have received their first shipments of influenza vaccine to meet the demands for the upcoming flu season.

Most pharmacies have received their first shipments of influenza vaccine to meet the demands for the upcoming flu season.

In Canada, influenza affects between 10 and 20% of the population. The highest rates of infection are with children aged five to nine, adults over 65 years of age, and those with underlying medical conditions.

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Influenza is a serious public health concern in Canada, with an estimated 175,000 emergency room visits, 12,200 influenza-related hospitalizations (70% are seniors), and 3,500 influenza-related deaths (91% are seniors).

Influenza affects the ability to perform the normal activities of daily living in seniors, such as getting dressed, bathing or eating. Influenza infections often result in strokes, heart attacks and respiratory problems up to two weeks after sicknesses occur.

Underlying medical conditions are reported by 74% of Canadians. These conditions include cancer, high blood pressure, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPS), diabetes and stroke or heart disease. Potential respiratory complications of influenza include asthma and COPD exacerbations, ear and sinus infections, or bronchitis and pneumonia. Influenza may also trigger stroke, heart attacks, or diabetes.

For persons aged 65 years and over, the risk of influenza-attributed death was five times greater among those with chronic heart diseases, 12 times greater among those with chronic lung diseases and 20 times greater among those with both chronic heart and lung diseases.

For the 2018/’19 flu season, the Canadian National Advisory Committee on Immunization recommends at the individual level for persons 65 years of age and older that the High-Dose TIV vaccination should be offered over the standard-dose TIV. Because of the natural and progressive weakening of the immune system over time, something called immune senescence, people about the age of 45 or 50 are more susceptible to disease, an increased incidence and severity of infectious diseases, and a reduction in vaccine effectiveness.

Given the burden of disease associated with influenza A (H3N2) and the better efficacy, those seniors especially with a pre-existing medical condition would benefit from the High-Dose flu shot.

As the High-Dose flu vaccine is not yet free for seniors in B.C. as it is in some other provinces, a seniors’ organization called CARP BC is trying to encourage and help to lower the price of the High-Dose flu shots for seniors. CARP has partnered with London Drugs and Save-On-Foods pharmacies to honour a flat $75 charge per dose (including all administration fees, dispensing fees, and taxes) under the Stand Up Straight Initiative.

Seniors 65 years of age or older can register with the program at www.standupstraightbc.com.

—Ken Kuhn, Tri-Cities Seniors Planning Network Coordinator

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