According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, the 2017-2018 flu season was the deadliest in America since 1976. Roughly 80,000 people died from the flu last year, and an estimated 900,000 were hospitalized. Of those, 90 percent of all flu-related deaths were people 65 years and older.
The Flu Can Cause Additional Complications for the Elderly
Due to generally weaker immune systems and other pre-existing chronic health conditions, senior citizens are more likely to suffer additional health complications, including death, as a result of the flu. The influenza virus, which attacks respiratory function, can frequently lead to three further health issues.
- Pneumonia. According to Mayo Clinic, pneumonia occurs when fluid or pus fills air sacs in the lungs, which can cause a cough with phlegm, fever, chills and difficulty breathing. Pneumonia is the leading flu-related cause of death.
- Heart attack. As the influenza virus weakens the respiratory system, heart attacks occasionally result from the virus’ attack against the body.
- Sepsis. Sepsis causes widespread inflammation in the body that is often a result of severe infection. Typically, lung, kidney, skin and gut infections are all associated with sepsis.
Many influenza-related deaths each year are a result of health complications from the flu, not just the virus alone.
What Type of Flu Shots are Acceptable for Older Adults?
The CDC contends that the annual flu shot is still the best protection against influenza. As such, older adults and nursing home residents are highly encouraged to be treated with the flu vaccine every year. While the vaccine that is given to everybody is still generally effective in older adults, two newer types of vaccines have been developed to more effectively treat those 65 and older.
- Adjuvanted Flu Vaccine. The adjuvanted flu vaccine recently became available in the U.S. and is believed to be more effective for the elderly than the standard flu shot. According to the CDC, it is made with MF59 adjuvant in order to develop a better immune response to vaccination. A 2011-2012 Canadian study showed it to be 63 percent more effective for older adults.
- High Dose Flu Vaccine. The high dose flu vaccine is created with more antigens in order to elicit a stronger immune response, as more antibodies are produced post-vaccination. According to the CDC, a clinical trial showed that those who received the high dose flu vaccine had 24 percent fewer influenza infections, compared to those who received the regular flu shot.
CMS Requires Nursing Homes to Administer Flu Shots
The elderly, who are already incredibly susceptible to influenza and influenza-related deaths, are perhaps even more likely to get the flu in a nursing home setting, where diseases spread more easily from patient to patient.
As such, since 2005, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services have required all nursing home and long-term care facilities that serve Medicare and Medicaid patients to administer flu shots to every resident. Not doing so can jeopardize the facility’s involvement in the CMS programs.
Whether in an act of negligence, understaffing or something else, facilities that do not take preventative measures to protect their residents from the flu put their patients at greater risk for serious and sometimes fatal health complications. It is imperative that the elderly in particular are given flu vaccines.
Too frequently, our law firm has witnessed severe suffering in nursing homes as a result of negligence or understaffing. Time and time again, we have fought for our clients and recovered significant funds for those who have suffered at the hands of long-term care facilities.
If you or someone you know has experienced severe flu-related complications due to negligence and lack of facility care planning and prevention, please contact us for a free, confidential consultation. We would be happy to discuss these matters with you and fight alongside you for justice.