For plenty of people, the flu is mostly just a nuisance. But that is not the case for older adults.
“Even though people over 60 are less than 20 percent of the population, they account for over 80 percent of the serious complications of influenza,” says William Schaffner, M.D., medical director of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases and professor of preventive medicine and infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. “So what you do when you get the flu turns out to be very important for this age group.”
The same goes for what you don’t do. Here are eight ways to hasten your recovery from the flu.
1. Call your health care provider ASAP
Not everyone who gets the flu needs to see their doctor, but people over 65 do. That’s because age itself — along with many other conditions that often come along in later years, such as diabetes and heart disease — puts you at risk for serious complications from the flu, namely pneumonia.
“As we age, our immune system responds less vigorously than it does when we’re younger,” explains Stuart Ray, M.D., professor of medicine in the Division of Infectious Diseases at Johns Hopkins Hospital. “Both antibodies and T cells play important roles in protecting against infection and severe disease from influenza. And those tend to decrease during late adulthood.”
Your doctor will likely prescribe an antiviral medication that helps your body fight off the influenza virus. Research shows that taking an antiviral, like Tamiflu, at the first sign of the flu can reduce symptoms and shorten your bout of the flu by one day.
How Well Does a Flu Shot Work?
The influenza vaccine can help keep you from getting the flu in the first place. It can also lower your risk of getting sick if you do get infected by between 40 and 60 percent, according to the CDC. Don’t delay: The best time to get your flu shot, experts say, is in September or October.
Don’t postpone treatment
With antivirals, time is of the essence. You should take them within 48 hours after symptoms kick in. “What we adults tend to do is say, ‘I’d rather not go to the doctor. Let’s see if I feel better tomorrow,’ ” Schaffner says. “When we get what we think is influenza, it’s important to contact our health care provider, because the sooner we get the treatment, the better the success of the treatment.”
Keep in mind: You don’t have to make an in-person appointment. Your doctor should be able to assess your symptoms virtually. Miss your 48-hour window? There’s still some benefit to taking an antiviral “beyond the 48 hours, but it diminishes day by day,” Schaffner says.
2. Stay home
The flu is highly contagious, spreading through droplets in the air when you cough, sneeze or talk. And that’s true even before you feel fluish. According to the National Institute on Aging, people with the flu can spread it a day before and up to a week after feeling sick.
Don’t leave home until your fever is gone
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends staying home until you’re fever free — without the help of fever-reducing meds — for 24 hours.