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The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness, and at times can lead to death. Common symptoms include cough, sore throat, runny/stuffy nose, muscle and body aches, headache and tiredness. Some people also get a fever, or have vomiting and diarrhea.

Most people who get sick with flu will have mild illness, will not need medical care or antiviral drugs, and will recover in less than two weeks. Some people, however, are more likely to get flu complications that can result in hospitalization and sometimes death. Pneumonia, bronchitis, sinus infections and ear infections are examples of flu-related complications. Flu also can make chronic health problems worse. For example, people with asthma may experience asthma attacks while they have flu and people with chronic congestive heart failure may experience a worsening of this condition triggered by flu.

Flu vaccination is especially important for people 65 years and older because they are at high risk of developing serious complications from flu. Flu vaccines are updated each season as needed to keep up with changing viruses. Also, immunity wanes over a year so annual vaccination is needed to ensure the best possible protection against influenza.

Immunity from vaccination sets in after about two weeks. Older people with weaker immune systems often have a lower protective immune response after flu vaccination compared to younger, healthier people. This can make them more susceptible to the flu. Although immune responses may be lower in the elderly, vaccine effectiveness has been similar in most flu seasons among older adults and those with chronic health conditions compared to younger, healthy adults.

Types of Flu Shots for People 65 and Older

People 65 years and older should get a flu shot and not a nasal spray vaccine. There are regular flu shots that are approved for use in people 65 and older and there also are two vaccines designed specifically for people 65 and older: high-dose flu vaccine and adjuvanted flu vaccine. Talk to your doctor about which type of flu vaccine is best for you.

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