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Flu in Older Adults

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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)
  • extreme fatigue (can last two or three weeks)
  • 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:

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%
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