You’ve likely already heard the news: the flu is pretty bad this year, with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) confirming a higher than usual level of illnesses, hospitalizations, and even deaths.
You also probably know that older adults (and certain other groups of people) have a higher risk of falling very ill from the flu, and have the highest death rates from flu.
But what many people don’t know is this: influenza is easily — and often — missed in older adults.
What do I mean by missed? I mean:
- Older adults (or their family members) may not realize an older person has the flu, because many older people don’t develop “typical” influenza symptoms.
- Health professionals often fail to test older people for influenza, even when they are sick enough to be hospitalized. This phenomenon was confirmed in a recently published study.
This is a very serious issue, especially when the flu virus is causing a lot of severe illness, as it is now.
The main problem is this: delayed — or entirely missed — recognition of influenza means that older adults often don’t get treated early — or at all — with anti-influenza drugs such as oseltamivir (brand name Tamiflu).
Particularly for those older adults who have chronic illnesses (especially those affecting the heart or lungs) or are frail, you don’t want to miss that chance to take anti-influenza drugs. They can’t guarantee an older person will avoid a hospitalization or death from influenza, but they do improve one’s chances.
And anti-influenza drugs are most likely to work when they are given within 48 hours of a person falling ill from influenza, with earlier being better.
So when flu activity is widespread, families need to be prepared to recognize potential flu.
And, you should be prepared for the possibility that the health providers might not think to test for influenza, unless you ask about it.
This article will help you learn to do these things. Here’s what I’ll cover:
- What are the usual symptoms of “influenza-like illness”
- Common symptoms of influenza in older adults
- Why older adults may not show typical influenza symptoms
- What we know about older adults & influenza testing
- What the CDC currently recommends, regarding influenza diagnosis and treatment
- What to do, if an older person falls ill during influenza season