How to prevent the flu for seniors

Excerpt: Flu prevention is especially important for older adults because their immune systems weaken with age and they’re at greater risk of serious health complications from the flu. Getting an annual flu shot in late fall is the best way prevent the flu, although washing hands often can provide added protection. Respiratory flu symptoms are generally more sudden and severe than cold symptoms, and unlike stomach flu’s intestinal symptoms.


With the change of seasons, it’s especially important for older adults to take steps in November to prevent the flu and protect against its potentially serious health complications.

Older adults are at greater risk of getting the flu because their immune systems weaken with age,* which can make it harder to fight off infections, according to the Canadian Public Health Service (CPHS). People over 65 are also more likely to have pre-existing conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, anemia or lung disease, which can worsen and sometimes cause hospitalization or death,* if they get the flu, says CPHS.

Flu prevention tips

The safest and best way to protect against the flu is to get an annual flu shot,* preferably in late fall or as soon as it’s available, says CPHS. The high-dose flu vaccine is an option to consider because studies suggest it may be more effective for older adults than the standard vaccine,* according to Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI).

In addition to getting a flu shot, you can protect yourself and those around you by not touching your face, washing your hands often, coughing and sneezing into the bend of your arm rather than your hand, and cleaning and disinfecting commonly touched surfaces such as phones, doorknobs, light switches, and telephone remotes,* advises CPHS. Eating healthy foods and staying physically active will also help boost your immunity* to resist infection, says HealthLink BC.

What are the symptoms of the flu?

Flu symptoms usually include the sudden appearance of fever, cough, and muscle aches and pains.* Other symptoms may be headache, chills, fatigue, loss of appetite, sore throat, and runny or stuffy nose,* according to CPHS. Although the flu and a cold can have some similar symptoms, flu symptoms generally develop more quickly and are more severe.* While fever is rare with a cold, sneezing is more common than with the flu.*

If your flu symptoms get worse or persist, see your healthcare provider to prevent serious complications.

How to prevent the stomach flu

The stomach flu, or gastroenteritis, is different than influenza (respiratory flu). It causes symptoms such as watery diarrhea, abdominal cramps and pain, nausea and vomiting,* says Mayo Clinic.

To prevent stomach flu, wash your hands often, especially after using the bathroom, and before eating or preparing food,* advises HealthLink BC. Don’t share personal items such as forks, spoons, toothbrushes, and towels. Avoid foods that could potentially be spoiled and other people with stomach flu.* If you develop stomach flu, drink fluids slowly, in frequent, small amounts, to stay hydrated.*


*The following sources provide references for this blog, in order of appearance:
1. Canadian Public Health Service. “Flu (influenza): Prevention and risk.” (2018), online: https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/flu-influenza/prevention-risks.html
2. BC Centre for Disease Control. “Fluzone® High-Dose Influenza Vaccine Question and Answer Document Updated – August 2019.” (2019), online: http://www.bccdc.ca/resource-gallery/Documents/Guidelines%20and%20Forms/Guidelines%20and%20Manuals/Immunization/Vaccine%20Info/FluzoneHD_QandA.pdf
3. British Columbia HealthLink. “Influenza (Flu) Season.” (2018), online: https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/health-feature/flu-season
4. Public Health Agency of Canada. “Cold or flu: know the difference/Know the flu facts – Fact sheet.” (2019), online: https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/publications/diseases-conditions/cold-flu-know-difference-fact-sheet.html
5. Mayo Clinic. “Viral gastroenteritis (stomach flu).” (2019), online: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/viral-gastroenteritis/symptoms-causes/syc-20378847
6. HealthLinkBC. “Gasteroeneritis in adults and older children.” (2019), online: https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/health-topics/zx1806