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For Canada’s seniors, influenza can pose a serious health threat

For many Canadians, a bout of the flu is an inconvenience; perhaps even representing some downtime to be pampered by a partner and binge on Netflix for a day or two. But for Canada’s 5.9 million seniors, influenza can pose a serious health threat. It can even be deadly.

Medical professionals warn that the flu can cause seniors to lose their independence if they are bed-ridden for any period of time. “People have to keep in mind that they can lose up to five per cent of their functional muscle strength every day that they are in a hospital bed,” Dr. Janet McElhaney told Maclean’s magazine. McElhaney, Scientific Director and Vice-President of Research at Health Sciences North Research Institute in Sudbury, Ontario, added: “Older people can walk in to a hospital as a healthy active adult, and come out weaker, needing rehabilitation, and at higher risk for additional problems. In many cases they will never regain the level of health and activity they had before hospitalization.”

The severity of these effects greatly compounds the importance of vaccination. The standard vaccine prevents about 40 percent of influenza hospitalizations in seniors.

McElhaney says that our immune systems weaken as we get older. “Roughly 50 per cent of people aged 65 and older have two or more chronic conditions. The confluence of these existing conditions and a weakened immune system can cause older Canadians who catch the flu to get much sicker than they would have when they were younger.”

Immunize Canada—a coalition of national non-governmental, professional, health, consumer, government and private-sector organizations, including the Canadian Medical Association—encourages older Canadians to get vaccinated.

“There’s no question that older adults will benefit from an influenza vaccine,” says Dr. Shelly McNeil, Chair of Immunize Canada. “How much they benefit can depend on a lot of things like underlying health conditions and immunosuppression, but may also depend on which specific vaccine they receive.”

McNeil points to recent recommendations by the National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI), Canada’s authority on infectious diseases and vaccination, regarding the influenza vaccine for seniors.

“They’re now beginning to address some newer vaccines that are available that may provide better protection than the standard vaccine against severe illness due to influenza in that age group and people should talk to their immunizer about their vaccine options,” says McNeil.

The NACI recommends both the high-dose and adjuvanted vaccines for seniors. According to authorities, the high-dose vaccine has been shown to have about a 24-percent greater effectiveness than a standard-dose vaccine in older adults, and it has been adopted in Manitoba for use in seniors as part of their public immunization program. Compared to the unadjuvanted vaccine, the adjuvanted vaccine results in a higher immune response in people over 65 and observational studies suggest this vaccine may also provide better protection for seniors than standard flu vaccine.

Immunize Canada says that the best time to get vaccinated is from October-December, but it is never too late. 

Please visit https://immunize.ca/ for more information

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