COLUMBUS - According to data from the Ohio Department of Health, nearly half (48 percent) of the 1,919 hospitalizations due to influenza to date in Ohio are residents age 65 or older. The Ohio Department of Aging is joining with the Department of Health to strongly urge all older Ohioans - as well as those who care for and serve them - to do everything you can to reduce your risk of getting and spreading the flu or to reduce the severity of symptoms if you do get it.
"The peak of flu season is not yet upon us, and the flu is already widespread in Ohio. Where older adults are concerned, the flu is a serious illness that can lead to health complications, hospitalizations and even death," said Bonnie K. Burman, director of the Ohio Department of Aging. "There are many things Golden Buckeyes can and should do to protect themselves. In addition, the millions of Ohioans of all ages who come into regular contact with older adults have a responsibility to do all they can to prevent the spread of the virus."
According to the National Council on Aging, our immune systems typically weaken as we get older, making it harder for our bodies to fight disease. As a result, adults age 65 and older are at increased risk of flu and its complications. Not only can the flu include mild to severe illness, it can also make other chronic health conditions worse. Eighty-five percent of older adults have at least one chronic condition such as diabetes, heart disease or COPD, and 68 percent have two or more.
A flu shot is the best thing you can do to protect yourself and the older adults in your life from the flu. The vaccine can prevent most strains and can lessen the severity and length of symptoms if you do get the flu. The annual flu shot is a Medicare Part B benefit, which means that the vaccine is covered with no copay for adults age 65 or older. There also is a higher-dose vaccine specifically designed for older adults - ask your health care provider if the higher-dose vaccine is right for you.
Other things you can do to prevent getting or spreading the flu:
- Wash your hands frequently with soap and water; use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with your hands.
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when sneezing, coughing or blowing your nose; throw away the tissue and wash your hands immediately. If you don't have a tissue, cough or sneeze into your elbow or upper sleeve.
- Avoid contact with people who are sick. If you are sick, stay home, rest and limit your contact with others until you are fever-free for at least 24 hours without the use of medicine.
- Call ahead to places like doctor's offices, nursing homes and senior centers to see if they have special appointment or visitation policies during flu season or for people who have flu-like symptoms.
- If you work with or provide care to older adults and have flu-like symptoms or have been exposed to someone with the flu, contact your employer to see if you should report to work. Ask about your employer's policies and procedures about the flu and other infectious diseases.
Symptoms of seasonal flu include fever, cough, sore throat, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue. Some might also experience diarrhea and vomiting. Warning signs include difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen, sudden dizziness, confusion, severe or persistent vomiting and flu-like symptoms that improve, but then return with fever. If you have a chronic medical condition, such as diabetes, heart disease or COPD and/or are age 65 or older, and experience any of these symptoms, seek medical attention immediately.
Visit www.flu.ohio.gov for information and resources to help you fight the flu.
About ODA - The Ohio Department of Aging works to ensure that Ohio is on the leading edge of innovation in responding to the growing and changing aging population. We work with state agencies, area agencies on aging and other local partners to help integrate aging needs into local plans and ensure that aging Ohioans have access to a wide array of high-quality services and supports that are person-centered in policy and practice. Our programs include the PASSPORT Medicaid waiver, the long-term care ombudsman program, the Golden Buckeye Card and more. Visit www.aging.ohio.gov.
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