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Flu in Older Adults

Older adults and people with chronic diseases are at the greatest risk of problems associated with seasonal flu

Of all age groups, individuals older than age 84 have the highest risk of dying from seasonal flu complications; those older than age 74 face the second highest risk of flu complications. Children age 4 and younger have the third highest risk of problems with seasonal flu.

Swine Flu Outbreak: Get the Facts

Swine Flu Slideshow

Learn more about the H1N1 swine flu and see what you can do to stay healthy.

View the slideshow.


How Can Older Adults Tell if They Have the Flu?

The symptoms of flu in older adults -- whether it's caused by the more typical seasonal flu viruses or the swine flu virus -- are pretty much the same as in other age groups. They may include:

  • fever (usual)
  • headache (common)
  • tiredness and fatigue (can last two or three weeks)
  • extreme exhaustion (usual at the start of flu symptoms)
  • general aches and pain (often severe)
  • chest discomfort, cough (common and can become severe)
  • sore throat (sometimes)
  • runny or stuffy nose (sometimes)

For in-depth information, see WebMD's Flu Symptoms: What You Might Feel. 

Do Older Adults Get Gastrointestinal Problems With the Flu?

Although more common in children, older adults sometimes suffer from stomach symptoms, like nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea, with flu. These symptoms seem to be more common with swine flu.  

What Flu Complications Should Older Adults Watch For?

Complications of flu in seniors may include:

  • pneumonia
  • dehydration
  • worsening of chronic medical conditions, including lung conditions such as asthma and emphysema and heart disease

It's important to see your doctor immediately if you have any of these flu complications. The sooner you start medical treatment, the faster it can work to treat the more serious symptoms.

For in-depth information, see WebMD's Flu Complications.

How Can Older Adults Prevent the Flu?

The best way to prevent the seasonal flu is to get an annual flu vaccine.

Getting a seasonal flu shot is a very smart idea. It reduces hospitalization by about 70% and death by about 85% among older adults who do not live in nursing homes, according to the National Institute on Aging. Among nursing home residents, the flu shot does the following:

  • reduces the risk of hospitalization by about 50%
  • reduces the risk of pneumonia by about 60%
  • reduces the risk of death by 75% to 80%

There is now a high-dose flu vaccine made specifically for the elderly. The high-dose flu shot contains four times as much active ingredient as a regular flu shot. It is supposed to bring on a higher immune response than the regular flu shot. The shot is recommended for this age group, if it's available.  

Keep in mind that the seasonal flu viruses change each year, so older adults need to get a new flu shot each fall.

The CDC recommends that older adults and senior citizens also get a one-time pneumococcal vaccine. The pneumococcal vaccine helps prevent bacterial pneumonia in older adults. This vaccine can be given at the same time as the flu shot.

For in-depth information, see WebMD's Flu Shot: Influenza Vaccine.

WebMD Medical Reference

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