Infectious Disease Experts Call for Better Understanding of How to Protect Older Americans from Flu

Americans 65 years of age and older are at the highest risk of developing severe complications from influenza, but these same individuals receive less protection from annual influenza vaccination than others. While annual vaccination is the best means of protection for everyone, including older adults, a brief issued by the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) urges the healthcare community to take action to increase understanding of the immunization challenges and new opportunities for protecting older Americans from influenza.

"Despite significant research into how influenza affects the older population, many healthcare professionals and practices remain unaware of the difficulties surrounding immunization and immune response for adults over the age of 65"

."Despite significant research into how influenza affects the older population, many healthcare professionals and practices remain unaware of the difficulties surrounding immunization and immune response for adults over the age of 65," said William Schaffner, MD, president of NFID and one of the featured panelists for NFIDs brief. "Increasing vaccination rates is an ongoing and important goal, but we, as healthcare professionals, need to become more knowledgeable about the unique needs of our older patients and the new strategies for providing optimal protection."

Americans age 65 and older experience a heavy burden of disease, with increased rates of both hospitalization and mortality. People in this age group often have underlying chronic conditions, which may be exacerbated by influenza infection. In addition, the waning immune system in older adults reduces both their ability to respond to infection and their response to standard influenza vaccine. New options that offer the potential for greater protection against influenza are becoming increasingly available, including a high-dose influenza vaccine for Americans age 65 and older which was approved in the US last year.

NFIDs new brief, Understanding the Challenges and Opportunities in Protecting Older Adults from Influenza, incorporates insights from a panel of infectious disease experts, who call for increased education and awareness of the benefits and safety of influenza vaccination, not only among the older population, but also among their healthcare providers.

The brief serves as a resource for healthcare professionals and challenges them to more effectively address the immunization needs of their older patients by:

Embracing the universal influenza recommendation while practicing patient-specific care: Healthcare professionals need to understand that the response of older patients to influenza vaccine is different from that of younger adults. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now recommends influenza vaccination for all people age 6 months and older; if the younger population is well-vaccinated that will reduce influenza virus circulation and be of indirect benefit to older persons.

Demonstrating a personal commitment to influenza vaccination: Every member of the healthcare community should set a good example and protect themselves and their patients by receiving the influenza vaccine themselves every year.

Understanding and utilizing new strategies for prevention: Healthcare professionals need to stay alert for the introduction of new vaccines, learn their benefits for specific populations, and consider all options when planning ahead for the influenza season.

NFIDs expert panel included Arnold Monto, MD; Kristin Nichol, MD, MPH; H. Keipp Talbot, MD, MPH; and William Schaffner, MD. The full brief resulting from this panel is available on NFIDs website at: www.nfid.org/publications.

About Influenza

Influenza is an infectious disease that can cause a range of symptoms and effects from mild to severe illnesses to life-threatening complications, even among previously healthy people. Influenza is caused by two types of virusesinfluenza type A and influenza type Bthat are spread through contact with respiratory droplets, such as those from sneezing or coughing.

Research shows that people age 65 and older are at greater risk of serious complications from influenza compared with younger, healthy adults. Approximately 90 percent of influenza-related deaths and more than 60 percent of hospitalizations in the US each year occur in older people.

The best form of protection against influenza for all age groups is vaccination.

About the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases

The National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) is a non-profit, tax-exempt (501c3) organization founded in 1973 and dedicated to educating the public and healthcare professionals about the causes, treatment, and prevention of infectious diseases.

This initiative is supported by an unrestricted educational grant from sanofi pasteur. NFIDs policies prohibit funders from controlling program content. To view NFIDs policy for unrestricted educational grants, visit: www.nfid.org/pdf/grantspolicy.pdf.

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