Senior Beat

Flu season is approaching, how to protect yourself

By Carol Higgins Taylor

Special to The Weekly

There are telltale signs that fall is approaching. I have noticed my deck is accumulating

more leaves lately, and the vibrant green color of the trees is now more muted with tinges of gold and orange. While the days are still lovely, the nights are cool and conducive to perfect slumber.

But the biggest tell for me are the signs outside pharmacies for flu shots. It seems so early to think about this, but it is the first week of September. Not sure how that happened and I am certainly not ready to contemplate the next season to come, but time stands still for no man as they say.

On the up side, I am eager for pumpkin spice coffee and caramel apples. Not to mention, a fabulous new fall purse.

But the season is not all foliage and craft fairs. While we are out and about, germs lurk among us. Yes, this is a reminder to get your flu shot.

It is the best protection from the flu that we have. Just being in close proximity to a sneeze or a cough can put you at risk. Maybe the person has allergies, but it could be a cold or influenza. Take the fear out of the flying germ equation and get the flu shot.

There are other things you can do to reduce your risk of getting sick.

Keep your hands clean. Wash them well, and often. Don’t do a drive-by – a quick rinse under running water. Of course, if hand washing is not possible, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer – at least 62 percent alcohol. You cannot have too many bottles of these hard-working little germ fighters so stock up. You never know when you’ll be forced to shake hands with someone who has a prominently runny nose and dry cough. Keep a bottle in your car and your purse so it will be handy. Disinfectant wipes are also a plus and can be used on doorknobs and handles. Germs can live on surfaces for hours, even days.

Most importantly, in your war on the flu, is to keep your hands away from your face. If you have touched something that has been touched by an infected person, and then you rub your eyes or nose, the virus on your fingers has just found an entryway into your whole body and will waste no time making itself at home.

But careful though you may be, remember the flu virus is also air-borne, so if you happen to be in the path of a random coughing jag or sneezing fit by an infected person, you could get sick. Try to keep at least three feet between you and a sneeze or cough. Colds are uncomfortable and annoying but the flu can cause complications such as bronchitis and pneumonia quickly in seniors, which can be life threatening, and delaying treatment can make matters worse.

Other complications of flu can include ear infections, sinus infections, dehydration and worsening of chronic medical conditions, such as congestive heart failure, asthma, or diabetes.

Again, one of the best ways to guard against influenza is by having a flu shot. While getting one is not a one hundred percent guarantee that you won’t contract the virus, your vaccination will ensure that your symptoms will be reduced.

Influenza can cause fever, chills, headache, dry cough, runny or stuffy nose, sore throat, muscle aches and extreme fatigue lasting several days to more than a week.

Try to avoid all this and call your health care provider or go to one of the numerous flu shot clinics being held in the area. The vaccine is covered by Medicare so bring your card with you.

And ask your health care provider about the pneumonia and shingles shots, as well. Face the season prepared.

Carol Higgins Taylor is an advocate for seniors and owns Bryant Street Public Relations in Bangor. Email her at

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