Seasonal influenza is an acute viral infection caused by an influenza virus. Each year in the United States flu kills more than 36,000 people and hospitalizes 200,000. Most deaths associated with flu in industrialized countries occur among people age 65 or older. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a yearly flu vaccination as the first and most important step in protecting against the flu.
Seasonal flu spreads easily. When an infected person coughs, infected droplets get into the air and another person breathes them in, resulting in flu. The severity of a flu outbreak depends on a number of factors and can vary from year to year. Severity also depends on when the outbreak begins, the length of time the virus is around spreading its germs, what type the virus is and whether the flu vaccine is well matched to the types of flu circulating.
Flu seasons do differ. Last years' flu season (2010/2011) was less severe than the one in 2009/10 when a pandemic led to many people seeking outpatient treatment and, many more people than usual being hospitalized. Last year flu began to increase in the southeastern United States and it peaked nationally in early February.
The vaccine is available as a flu shot or a nasal spray-type flu vaccine and is reckoned to give 70-80% protection. The effectiveness of flu vaccine can vary from year to year as well as among different age and risk groups. Flu vaccine effectiveness depends on the degree to which yearly flu vaccine are well matched to circulating flu viruses. Although the vaccine is most effective among young healthy adults and older children, people over 65 years should still be vaccinated.
Old people with pre-existing chronic diseases such as heart failure or chronic respiratory illnesses such as bronchitis or COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) are particularly vulnerable. People with Alzheimer's are more likely to become increasingly confused during infection.
People living closely together with others such as those with Alzheimer's living in nursing homes have an increased likelihood of getting flu too.
Caregivers remember you need protection from flu too! The severity of a dose of flu can make you too unwell to continue looking after and supporting someone with Alzheimer's.