Did you get your flu shot?
Influenza is an infectious disease caused by a virus. Clinically it progresses as an acute inflammation of the upper respiratory tract. Its onset is usually sudden, from a state of full health. It often begins with chills, a headache and a fever rising to 39–40 °C. The ill person has muscle and joint pain, a dry and irritating cough, a runny nose and a dry and sore throat.
Given that the flu is dangerous and can lead to death among seniors, as a cohort we do not get vaccinated in the numbers we should. A recent study looked at why this is and it was published in Science Direct in March of 2017.
The clinical symptoms occur 1–3 days from the start of the infection. Unless there are complications, the symptoms subside in 3–5 days. Complete recovery usually occurs in two to four weeks from the first symptoms.
The flu season begins in October and lasts until April of the following year. The flu can affect anyone, but the group at particular risk are older people over the age of 59 years, people with chronic respiratory problems, cardiovascular disease, reduced immunity of the organism, diabetes, and medical staff who treat patients.
About 90% of the total number of deaths from influenza occur in persons older than 65 years. These deaths are mostly hidden behind the diagnoses of pneumonia and the decompensation of chronic cardiovascular and respiratory diseases,
According to the study the majority (81%) of seniors did not get vaccinated and the remaining 19% were. Seniors who did get vaccinated did so on the recommendation of doctors and nurses (65%), the influence of family (16%), health concerns (12%), positive previous experience (10%) and the impact of advertising (3%).
A major factor revealed that if a senior had a chronic disease they would likely not get vaccinated. Seniors appear to be worried that if they have a chronic disease getting a vaccination could affect the course of the disease and cause complications. The study found that this was one of the decisive factors for the elderly person not to get vaccinated.
According to the results, another important factor influencing a senior's decision to get vaccinated was the senior's age. The highest percentage of seniors were vaccinated in the age 60–69 years, while the lowest percentage was found in the group of long-living seniors. A reason for this could be that chronic diseases are associated with age, thereby the number of seniors who agree to get vaccinated decreases because they fear that the vaccine is not safe and it will also affect the other diseases and aggravate their condition.
There is some evidence that indicates that the effectiveness of the vaccination depends on the age and ability of the individual to produce antibodies. Full protection is formed 14 days after vaccination in 70–90% of adults. The older the individual is, the lower the ability of the body to produce antibodies. At 80 years of age and above only 30–40% of individuals will create antibodies after the vaccine administration.
Many myths still exist with regards to the flu vaccination. It should be understood, however, that the vaccine itself does not prevent the development of disease, but it is important that a disease with a high probability takes place moderately and there should not be too serious complications.
In the relationship between the perceived risks and the decision to get vaccinated, it was found that the perception of the risk and the severity of the disease are associated with the decision to get vaccinated. This suggests that one of the areas of intervention to support the senior's decision to get vaccinated could include educational programs on vaccination for seniors over the age of 60 years.
Recommendations and information from the healthcare provider are the strongest predictors for the crucial decision to get vaccinated for most seniors. The nurse providing the nursing care should carry out education, which is for the elderly an integral part of prevention. The aim is to activate the patient's cooperation in prevention and achieve positive changes in lifestyle. In terms of the senior's education, more time, patience and empathy are needed.
If society wants seniors to get vaccinated then information campaigns about vaccination targeted towards the elderly should be introduced to improve vaccine coverage and thus reduce the burden of infection. Some research reports that many seniors did not receive advice on vaccinations recommended by their doctor.
Many seniors do not have family doctors so perhaps a nurse practitioner in a clinic could inform patients before the onset of the influenza season on the most appropriate ways of prevention. The bulletin board of the doctor’s office and any clinic waiting room should provide seniors with the necessary information on proper hand washing, adequate fluid intake, and increased intake of vitamins (especially vitamin C and E).
Finally, it is necessary to familiarize senior citizens with the possibility of a flu vaccine that currently seems to be the best and most effective way to prevent it. This would help remove concerns about possible complications and the inappropriateness of the vaccines.
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