Watertown Daily Times (Letter to the editor): Protect yourself against influenza, pneumonia

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In New York state, it’s estimated that between 972,000 and 3.8 million residents will suffer from influenza in an average year. Despite this alarming number, year after year vaccination rates continue to fall short of public health goals.

A report, “Missed Opportunities: Influenza and Pneumonia Vaccination in Older Adults,” which was issued last year by the American Lung Association found that millions of people over 65 years old are failing to get vaccinated, especially older African-Americans and Hispanics, who are at an increased risk from preventable, yet deadly, respiratory diseases like influenza and pneumonia.

Influenza and pneumonia combined are the eighth-leading cause of death among all Americans and the seventh leading cause of death among all Americans over the age of 65. Nearly 90 percent of deaths from flu occur among people 65 years of age and older.

While we are all “faces of influenza” and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that those 6 months of age and older be vaccinated, the elderly are at special risk. Studies show that the flu shot can be up to 70 percent effective in preventing hospitalizations for both influenza and pneumonia in those over 65.

It’s not too late to be immunized this season. Those with questions about the flu shot should speak with their doctor. The American Lung Association offers a vaccine finder on its website to help residents locate a flu shot in their area. We also offer our Faces of Influenza website to help people learn more about influenza and how they can protect themselves. To access both of these resources, visit facesofinfluenza.org.

Irwin Berlin, M.D.
The writer is board chair of American Lung Association in New York.