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Older Adults Should Protect Themselves from Flu

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Although overall flu activity has leveled off slightly in early January, the Northern Kentucky Health Department is seeing an increase in cases in adults age 65 and older. Many of these cases are serious, and require hospitalization.

“It’s not surprising that flu cases are rising in our older adult population,” said Lynne M. Saddler, MD, MPH, District Director of Health. “Adults ages 65 and older may have weaker immune systems than younger people, and it may be harder for them to fight off infection. Further, the predominant strain we are seeing, H3N2, has historically been associated with more severe illness in the very old and the very young.”

More than 2,700 cases of flu have been reported in Northern Kentucky to date. While recent case data is still being analyzed, case tracking from December shows the increase among older adults: Through December 13, about 40 cases had been reported in adults age 61 and older. The number increased to 264 cases as of December 27. Four deaths have been reported, three in adults over 65 and one in a child under 18 (which was announced previously). In an average year, nearly 90 percent of the deaths associated with seasonal flu occur in people ages 65 and older, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A first step in protecting older adults is vaccination. The vaccine is recommended for everyone age 6 months and older, but adults age 65 and older or with chronic medical conditions should be sure to get vaccinated. The Health Department is offering doses of the Fluzone High-Dose vaccine, which is designed to create a stronger immune response, and therefore, better protect, older adults from flu. The vaccine is available by appointment at the Health Department’s county health centers. The Health Department is charging $20 for the vaccine, but no one will be turned away for inability to pay. Locations are:

“Even in a season where the strain circulating isn’t an exact match to the vaccine, getting vaccinated still has value,” said Saddler. “Antibodies created through vaccination with one influenza virus can offer some protection against different influenza viruses—this is called cross-protection. A person who is vaccinated is likely to have less severe illness as well. Further, the vaccine will protect against other strains of flu, which could circulate locally in the coming months.”

Besides vaccination, the Health Department recommends the following actions to protect older adults, and others, from flu:


If you become ill with symptoms of flu, including fever and fatigue, contact your health care provider to see if it is appropriate to use anti-viral medications. Certain symptoms signal a more serious infection and require immediate attention, including difficulty breathing, pain or pressure in the abdomen, sudden dizziness or confusion, and severe or persistent vomiting.

For more information on flu, please visit http://www.nkyhealth.org/Seasonal-Flu.aspx.

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Media representatives should contact Emily Gresham Wherle at 859.344.5470 or Emily.Gresham-Wherle@nkyhealth.org, about any request or information before calling any other Health Department employee. Your calls and requests will be handled expediently with your deadlines in mind. Thank you for your interest and support in educating the community about public health issues.

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For statewide news releases, please visit the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services.