Hand washing, eating right among steps to help prevent flu


Cold and flu season is upon us. Doctors and other health professionals routinely encourage immunizations for adults over age 60 — but why this emphasis as we age?

With age, our immune system begins to weaken and we are more susceptible to certain infections. These infections can range from a minor irritation to a life-threatening condition. Prevention is the least costly and most effective method. The best prevention involves the common self-health steps: eating right, getting enough sleep, exercising regularly. The Hawaii Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention add two more to this list: regular hand washing and immunizations.

Hand washing eliminates germs better than any other method. Several years ago when the U.S. experienced a severe flu vaccine shortage, one school district implemented a hand-washing campaign in all their elementary schools. That flu season there were fewer absences than years there had been plenty of flu vaccines. The reason? Proper hand washing.

We have all heard this advice, but it’s a good reminder and works for all ages — not just elementary school ages.

Wash hands:

• After coughing, sneezing or blowing nose.

• After playing or working outside.

• Before preparing and eating food.

• After using the restroom.

• After playing with animals.

• Using warm, soapy water.

• For 20 seconds then rinse thoroughly.

• Dry hands and use towel to turn off faucet and open door.

Immunizations are an important second line of defense.

They not only protect the person who receives the vaccination, but also those around them.

If someone at home has a poor immune system, extra caution should be taken so outside infections do not enter the home.

Extra caution includes all the steps above, along with proper immunizations of all household members.

The 2018 Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that individuals talk with their health care professional about the following vaccines:

1. Influenza vaccine. The CDC recommends that unless your health care professional tells you that you do not need or should not get the flu vaccine, the influenza vaccine is recommended annually for all adults, age 19 and older. Several different vaccine types are available. Talk with your doctor or health care professional to determine which is right for you.

2. Tdap vaccine. Unless otherwise directed by your health care professional, all adults should get 1 dose of Tdap if you did not get it as a child or adult.

3. Td vaccine. Unless otherwise directed by your health care professional, after the Tdap vaccine, a tetanus vaccine is only needed every 10 years (or sooner if there is a run-in with a very rusty object).

4. Pneumococcal vaccine. There are two types of pneumococcal vaccine. Unless otherwise directed, adults 65 years and older should get one dose of PCV13 and at least one dose of PPSV23 depending on age and health condition. Adults between 19 and 64 with certain risk factors may also be a candidate; talk with your health care professional to see if you need this vaccine.

5. Zoster vaccine. There are two types of zoster vaccine. Unless otherwise directed, adults should get two doses of RZV at age 50 or older (preferred) or one dose of ZVL at age 60 or older, even if you had shingles before.

Additional vaccines such as meningococcal, chickenpox, hepatitis A and B may be recommended depending on risk factors and vaccine history. For more information, visit the CDC website at www.cdc.gov/vaccines/schedules/downloads/adult/adult-schedule-easy-read.pdf and talk with your health care professional.

Before receiving any vaccine, it’s important to do your homework. Some individuals should not receive a vaccine. Examples include those with a suppressed immune system, are undergoing certain medical treatments or procedures, or who have had a reaction to earlier vaccines. Vaccine homework includes learning about and discussing each vaccine with a doctor or other health care professional.

The internet is also full of good information about vaccines, but there is also a lot of misinformation. Websites operated by governmental agencies or university systems provide nonbiased, research-based information on vaccines. As with all health care decisions, be an informed consumer. Consider both the pros and cons and consider your own medical background before accepting or declining any treatment.

* Heather Greenwood Junkermeier is with the University of Hawaii Manoa Cooperative Extension, Maui Intergenerational and Aging Programs. “Aging Matters” covers topics of interest to the aging Maui community and appears on the third Sunday of each month.