Monday, October 12, 2009


Seniors may have immunity to H1N1

Seniors have always been reminded to get a seasonal flu shot, and the advice is still sound this flu season.

Many seniors, however, may wonder why they are not in the priority groups for the H1N1 vaccine when it becomes available.

Federal guidelines call for the new H1N1 vaccine to be given first to pregnant women, those who live with or care for children 6 months or younger, healthcare workers, people ages 6 months through 24 years old, and people with chronic health problems or compromised immune systems.

Only after shots are offered to those groups will the vaccine be available to healthy adults 64 and younger. After that, seniors’ ages 65 and older would be eligible.

The answer to why seniors are being delayed in their receipt of vaccine is twofold: there is a limited supply being made available – some vaccine even being limited further by the vaccine’s contra-indications and usage – and seniors are believed to have a preexisting immunity.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) supports its assertion that immunity exists by reasoning that seniors, especially those over the age of 60, might have been exposed to the Spanish influenza in 1918, and Asian influenza in 1957. CDC also points out that from all current H1N1 virus cases in the United States, 64 percent of them were found in people within the ages of 5-24 and only one percent of virus cases were found in people over 65 years old.

So, what can seniors do to stay healthy in the season of influenza – be it seasonal or H1N1? First, get your seasonal flu shot. As much as 20 percent of people nationwide get the (seasonal) flu each year. About 200,000 people experience complications from the flu and have to be hospitalized, and about 36,000 die each year.

Flu symptoms include fever (usually high), headache, extreme tiredness, dry cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle aches, and sometimes diarrhea and vomiting. The flu is spread through coughing or sneezing.

Second, you should maintain a sanitary environment by covering your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, washing hands, and staying home when you are sick.

Finally, you can protect yourself by helping others. Encourage friends and relatives to get flu shots. Remind them that it is okay to stay home when you are sick. And, seek out information from legitimate resources such as your healthcare provider or the local health department. You are certain to feel less anxiety if you feel in control of your own health, and a healthy mind will lead to a healthy body.

For updates on the flu season, visit

Patrick R. McCormack is Director of Health for the Uncas Health District. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. E-mail McCormack and all of the Healthy Living columnists at or comment on their blog at

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