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Physician offers tips for avoiding flu that can be risky for older women

Women over age 65 should take special precautions during flu season
Women over age 65 should take special precautions during flu season

Andrew Duxbury, M.D., associate professor in the Division of Gerontology, Geriatrics and Palliative Care at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) School of Medicine has tips for avoiding the flu for older women who are more vulnerable to complications.

Flu poses special dangers to anyone over age 65. Duxbury explains the reason is because as we grow older our immune system weakens, setting us up for complications.

Flu is a respiratory infection that can lead to pneumonia and sepsis - infection that can enter the blood stream and cause critical illness.

That's not to say women over age 65 haven't been through worse influenza outbreaks. This year's epidemic isn't the worst we've seen and it's not pandemic, Duxbury adds. The key to staying well is to avoid the flu, but if you do get the virus, you should know when to call the doctor.

There are 39.6 elderly people living in the United States, or 13 percent of the population. When you take into consideration how many people might be caring for an elder, the impact of flu can become substantial.

Tips for older women during flu season

Take the flu vaccine. Duxbury explains it's not too late and even if you get influenza it will help make symptoms less severe.

Avoid crowds. Influenza is a virus that is spread from coughing and sneezing. The virus can live on surfaces like doorknobs and books between 2 and 8 hours, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).

Wash your hands regularly. Hand washing has been shown to be one of the most effective techniques for stopping spread of infectious diseases. Make sure you wash thoroughly and scrub for at least 20 seconds.

If you do get the flu, "Pay more attention to things like staying hydrated. Appetite and thirst mechanisms are different for older people; they can tip over to dehydration in less than a day if they don’t keep fluids up", Duxbury said in a press release.

Get plenty of rest, but understand it's important to get out of bed frequently to help avoid pneumonia.

Duxbury, also a member of the UAB Center for Aging, explains too much time in bed and cause more weakness for very frail elders and become a set up for falls and disability.

Don't rely on herbal remedies to help avoid flu that are no proven to work.

If you develop a productive cough, fever above 101 or become short of breath, call your doctor.

Encourage your family to take a flu shot. Family members that come and go can be a source of infection.


University of Alabama

January 11, 2013


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