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Flu in older adults

Flu can be a serious illness for older people, which is why the NHS offers free annual flu jabs for over 65s.

For most otherwise healthy people, flu means a week or so of discomfort. For some older people, especially those with other health conditions, the risk is higher – and flu causes hundreds of deaths in the UK each year.

Flu complications in older adults include bronchitis and pneumonia, which may need hospital treatment.

How can older adults tell if they have the flu?

Flu symptoms are similar to those of all age groups, including:

What flu complications should older adults watch out for?

Complications of flu in elderly people may include:

  • Pneumonia
  • Dehydration
  • Worsening of long-term health conditions, including diabetes
  • Worsening of lung conditions, including asthma, COPD.

Seek medical advice if there are complications from flu. Antibiotics don’t work for flu itself because it is a virus – but they are effective against bacterial infections, including pneumonia.

How can older adults prevent getting the flu?

The best way to prevent the seasonal flu is to get an annual flu vaccination. Find out when your GP surgery is offering the jab and make sure you have the vaccination each year. That's important because flu keeps evolving – and the annual jab gives the latest protection.

This greatly reduces the risk of being admitted to hospital, pneumonia and other life-threatening complications.

How is flu treated in older adults?

The key to flu treatment – including for older adults is to:

  • Have plenty of rest.
  • Drink plenty of liquids.
  • Take over-the-counter painkillers to ease symptoms.
  • In some cases, antiviral drugs may be given if there's a risk of flu and an older person hasn’t been vaccinated against flu that year.

Are there warning signs with flu that older people need to watch for?

You won’t always need medical help with flu symptoms – but if you get them with trouble breathing – or the symptoms don't improve – or if you have concerns – seek medical advice.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on November 07, 2016

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