A challenge to older Americans: Take the flu seriously

(BPT) – Alice Vaught skipped her flu shot one season. That was the year she got the flu.

“I felt like I was dying. Within a couple hours I was unable to move. It came on so quickly, and I wasn’t aware of how severe it was.”

Unfortunately, the flu often strikes quickly and without warning, potentially leading to severe and sometimes life-threatening health problems. It’s an infectious disease that must be taken seriously — especially by those who are most vulnerable.

Flu can take a terrible toll

Anyone can get the flu. However, some people have an increased risk of flu and flu-related complications, including young children, pregnant women, adults 50 years of age and older, and people living with chronic health conditions, such as lung or heart disease, diabetes and cancer. This comprises a significant number of people. In fact, 70 percent of adults ages 50 to 64 have at least one chronic illness according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Brian Pelletier had type 2 diabetes, a severe lung disease and other chronic health conditions when the flu landed him in the hospital at the age of 52. “It was the first time I was really sick in over a decade. My medication that I was taking had been managing everything just fine, and my conditions didn’t slow me down too much,” said Pelletier. “I was active, but that bout with the flu really set me back.”

Flu can disrupt everyday life

The CDC estimates that the flu virus causes between 9 million and 49 million flu-related illnesses each year. It can worsen symptoms of respiratory disorders, such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Vaught is one of many who have caught the flu while living with asthma. “Everything was worse when I got the flu, especially my asthma. I remember losing 7 or 8 pounds and could barely lift my head,” she said.

JoJo O’Neal, a radio personality and fitness advocate who lives with asthma, had to stop everything when she was struck with the flu twice in one season. She took several days off work, rescheduled important meetings and missed out on personal commitments. “It felt like a truck ran over me,” said O’Neal. “It took over 10 days for me to finally feel better. I even had to cancel a meeting with the asthma support group I facilitate!”

It’s not too late to vaccinate

Vaccination is the best way to help protect against the flu. Health officials recommend all people ages 6 months and older, with rare exception, get vaccinated each year. This is particularly important for adults 50 years of age and older. That’s why the American Lung Association launched the MyShot campaign in collaboration with Sanofi Pasteur. The initiative empowers older adults to ask their healthcare providers about which flu shot options may help offer a greater level of protection against the flu based on their age and chronic health conditions.

It’s not too late to get your shot. Vaccination throughout the fall and winter — and even into the spring — can help protect against the flu while the virus is circulating.

Help protect yourself and loved ones

Getting your flu shot doesn’t just help keep you healthy. It also helps protect others around you, including your friends, family, co-workers and people in your community.

O’Neal learned this the hard way when she passed the flu to her sister, who has COPD. “I’d never had the flu before, and my eyes are now open,” said O’Neal. “I started to realize that my health decisions impact others around me. I never want to go through that experience again.”

For Pelletier, he also now takes extra precautions following his wrenching flu experience. “Anytime someone is in my home, I make sure they have gotten their flu shot.”

If you or someone you love is 50 years of age or older, go to GetMyShot.org to learn more and speak with your healthcare provider about flu shot options that may be right for you.