December 6 to 12 is National Influenza Vaccination Week (NIVW) which highlights the importance of getting the flu vaccination. Flu is a contagious respiratory illness brought on by viruses that infect the nose, throat, and even the lungs in some cases. Causing mild to severe illness, and sometimes death, the best way to prevent flu is to get the annual flu vaccine. This is especially so for vulnerable populations such as the ill and elderly, and in hospice in San Francisco and elsewhere, both are true. This can be the perfect storm for illness and premature death in the hospice community, so take the proper steps to protect yourself and others during the winter months.
The flu vaccine has been mandated in many states this year for the first time, due to the added threat of illness from COVID-19. This year, it’s even more important to get a flu shot because, like SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19), influenza is a respiratory virus and people should do everything they can to minimize having two respiratory outbreaks simultaneously going around in the population. This season’s flu vaccine will also help reduce the burden on the country’s healthcare systems responding to the coronavirus pandemic, saving medical resources for the care of these patients, according to the CDC.
There are three ways to prevent the flu:
- Get the flu vaccine.
- Practice preventive actions every day, such as washing hands.
- Take antiviral medication to treat flu if prescribed by a doctor.
In the hospice community, preventing flu outbreaks in an environment where COVID-19 outbreaks are also a threat is of paramount importance.
Hospice Patients: The Risk
As the loved one of someone in hospice, you may worry that the flu vaccine could actually make them come down with the flu, as per rumors that circulate every year. Or, maybe you’re asking yourself why they need the flu vaccine when they are already sick? However, the fact is, hospice patients are most in need of flu vaccines than any other group, says VeryWell.
Other vulnerable people who should get annual flu shots, especially this year, include:
- Children 6 months to 18 years old
- Adults over 50
- Anyone living in a long-term care facility, i.e., nursing home, rehab facility, assisted-living facility
- Those with weakened immune systems
- Those who come in frequent contact with the general public i.e., front line workers, healthcare workers, teachers, police officers
- Pregnant women
- Those with chronic medical conditions
- Caregivers, close friends, and family members of people at high risk for flu
Usually, hospice patients are older than 50 and have some kind of chronic illness that has already weakened their immune systems. This translates to a much higher risk of getting the flu. When an already-weakened immune system comes into contact with the flu virus, it can’t as readily attack that virus and fight off the illness. This is exactly the reason why it’s so critical for hospice patients and the people who care for them to receive the seasonal flu vaccine.
Importance of Flu Vaccine This Year
Measures that protect us against COVID-19 — like wearing face masks and washing hands often — also decrease the spread of influenza. However, it’s more critical than ever to get vaccinated. Why? The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a lack of sufficient ICU and hospital beds, as well as ventilators — even before flu season hit. During the 2020-2021 flu season, when both illnesses are circulating, hospitals are facing shortages yet again, which limits their ability to care for those who are very ill with COVID-19, the flu, or both, says Harvard Medical School.
Truth is, you can get COVID-19 and the flu all at the same time. One study revealed those who had COVID-19 and influenza B became sicker than those who just had COVID-19.
Additionally, COVID-19 and flu both have symptoms that are very similar, such as chills, fever, fatigue, aches, and coughs. So those who get the flu should be tested for COVID-19 as well, then quarantine until test results come back.
Flu Vaccine: The Benefits
There are several advantages to getting the flu vaccination, especially this year. According to the CDC, it can:
- Keep you from coming down with the flu
- Reduce the risk of hospitalization in older adults, children, and working-age adults
- Prevent additional sickness for those with chronic health conditions
- Protect pregnant women
- Save children’s lives
- Extend the lives of those in hospice
- Reduce the severity of illness in those who still get the flu despite being vaccinated
If you are a caregiver who tends to a loved one in hospice, it is urgently recommended that you also get the vaccine. Not only will it protect yourself and your own family, but it will also protect your elderly loved one that you are caring for, especially since they are more vulnerable to illness.
Contact Pathways Home Health and Hospice
If you are curious to learn more about the flu vaccine for your loved one in hospice or for yourself, contact us at 888-978-1306.