Researchers have discovered that when young people get flu shots, senior citizens in the community benefit as well, by lowering their risk of developing life-threatening illnesses.
The study was led by Dr. Glen Taksler, researcher at the Cleveland Clinic, who established that there was a lower probability for elderly people to be diagnosed with influenza when young people in their neighborhood had received the vaccine.
The observational research included samples from 3.3 million Medicare customers, aged 18 to 64, analyzed against immunization rates and flu cases reported between 2002 and 2010. In those areas where more than 31% of younger adults had received influenza shots, the number of flu patients older than 65 was 21% lower.
In communities with higher vaccination rates, senior people were basically given an additional layer of protection. In fact, experts estimated that around 1 in 20 influenza-related illnesses among elderly patients could have been avoided provided that more of their younger neighbors had received the flu vaccine.
Therefore, immunization should be promoted among low risk adults not just for their own sake, but also because it is beneficial to elderly people, who are more at risk of developing complications associated with the virus.
Dr. Taklser warns that flu immunization isn’t as effective among seniors as in the case of other age groups, which is why they are greatly helped when people in their community are healthy and protected from the cold virus.
Indeed, according to a report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), last year’s flu shot was just 19% effective, and people over 65 were the most affected. The failure of the vaccine was related to a mismatch between the strains that were circulating and those it protected people from, due to mutations in the virus.
Health experts have tweaked this year’s flu shot to include the missing strain, which suggests that its effectiveness will be much higher. There are currently several vaccination options available on the market: the flu shot, the intradermal vaccine, the nasal spray vaccine and another high-dose vaccine especially designed for people aged 65 and above.
The CDC is urging everyone over the age of 6 months to receive flu immunization on a yearly basis, due to the fact that the virus constantly mutates and becomes more infectious.
Currently, the majority of children get vaccines, but more than half of all U.S. adults skip the preventive shots, putting themselves at risk. Influenza-associated mortality rates range each year from a low of around 3,000 to a high of 49,000, and approximately 80-90% of the deaths involve people older than 65.
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