Lois A. Bowers

I got a flu shot last week. I sheepishly admit that it’s not something I do every year, but this year, the statistics scared me, and they haven’t improved.

As of Friday, flu was widespread in every state except Hawaii, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It’s the first time in at least 13 years that the virus has been so widespread in every state at the same time in the continental United States, Dan Jernigan, M.D., MPH, director of the influenza division in the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said Friday in a call with members of the media.

Sens. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Bob Casey (D-PA), chairman and ranking member, respectively, of the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging, on Friday even took the unusual step of issuing statements encouraging older adults to get vaccinated.

So far this flu season, influenza A, H3N2, has been the most common form of the flu, CDC Director Brenda Fitzgerald, M.D., said in the Friday call. “These viruses are often linked to more severe illness, especially among children and people age 65 and older,” she said. “When H3 viruses are predominant, we tend to have a worse flu season with more hospitalizations and more deaths.”

And the highest rates of hospitalization so far this season have been among those aged 65 or more years and those aged 50 to 64, Jernigan added.

Flu activity can peak at late as February and last as late as May, according to the federal agency, so if you haven’t been vaccinated yet this year, please consider it.

As the CDC shares, although the flu vaccine can vary in how well it works, it is the best way to prevent flu illness and serious flu complications. And getting vaccinated protects your fellow workers and the residents cared for in your buildings, who may be more vulnerable to serious flu illness due to their age or chronic health conditions.

And as a recent study found, flu vaccination could offer your senior living community a competitive advantage over other communities.

Beyond vaccination, Fitzgerald said: “We also know that you can reduce your risk of getting the flu through everyday good health habits, like covering your mouth when you cough and frequently washing your hand. You need, of course, to limit contact with others who might be sick and, if possible, stay home when you are sick to help prevent the spread of germs and respiratory illnesses like the flu. These are the most important measures that we all should be doing.”

See the CDC’s toolkit for long-term care employers.

Lois A. Bowers is senior editor of McKnight’s Senior Living. Follow her on Twitter at @Lois_Bowers.