Study Shows Flu Vaccination Prevents Hospitalizations in Older Adults

March 7, 2013 — A new study conducted by researchers from Vanderbilt University Medical Center in collaboration with CDC has found that flu vaccination reduced the risk of flu-related hospitalization by 71.4% among adults of all ages and by 76.8% in study participants 50 years of age and older during the 2011-2012 flu season.

“This study is reassuring in light of recent reports that flu vaccination can be less effective in older adults,” said Dr. Keipp Talbot, lead author of the study and a Vanderbilt medical researcher.

The study, entitled “Effectiveness of influenza vaccine for preventing laboratory-confirmed influenza hospitalizations in adults, 2011-2012 influenza season,” was published online in the journal Clinical Infectious Diseases on February 28, 2013. It is available for online viewing or download.

It’s estimated that more than 200,000 people in the United States are hospitalized each year from flu-related illness. Older adults, specifically those 65 years of age and older, typically account for 60% of these flu-related hospitalizations each year and about 90% of flu-related deaths.

“This study shows that the flu vaccine can offer significant protection against serious illness resulting in hospitalization for adults of all ages,” said Talbot.

“Studies such as this one are very important because they help us better understand the benefits of flu vaccine, particularly in older adults,” said Dr. Mark Thompson, a CDC flu expert and a co-author of the study. “Although flu vaccination can vary in how well it works, it’s still the best tool we have against the flu, and this study shows just how important the flu vaccine can be in preventing severe illness in older adults.”

According to the study’s authors, the results of the study also provide additional evidence for increasing vaccination rates in adults 50 years of age and older. “Given current flu vaccination rates in older adults, we think that increasing flu vaccination rates in this age group could prevent more than one-third of the total flu-related hospitalizations that occur each year in the United States,” said Dr. Talbot.

With few exceptions, CDC and the Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommend yearly flu vaccination for all people 6 months of age and older in the United States. A yearly flu vaccination is the first and most important step in protecting against flu viruses. In addition to vaccination, CDC recommends that older adults seek medical treatment right away if they do develop flu like symptoms, regardless of whether or not they have been vaccinated against the flu.

“Older adults often delay seeking medical treatment, but this can lead to complications that can become serious,” said Dr. Thompson. “People often aren’t aware that there are drugs called “antivirals” that can treat the flu if you do become sick with the flu.”

Antiviral drugs are prescription medications that can shorten the time of illness and lessen symptoms, but they work best when started as soon as possible after symptoms develop.

In addition to vaccination and seeking early medical treatment when sick, CDC also reminds everyone to take everyday preventative actions to reduce the risk of getting sick from the flu or spreading it to others. Examples of everyday preventive actions include: staying away from others who are or may be sick, staying home when you are sick (except to seek medical care), covering coughs and sneezes with a tissue, and washing your hands with soap and water frequently.

For more flu related information, visit CDC’s flu website.

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