And just when we thought we could see the light at the end of the flu tunnel, a new study of elderly patients suggests a second, fast spreading flu strain identified by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) could make many local seniors sick in the coming weeks.

Flu has been widespread in 48 states, and 32 states have experienced high levels of influenza like illnesses.

Now brand new research published in the “Cell Host & Microbe” scientific journal shows seniors are at high risk for catching the flu because their immune systems have trouble identifying new viral strains.   

The CDC reports a new strain, H3N2 , now accounts for almost half of the nation’s flu cases and the current vaccine is only 44 percent effective against this second wave.  CDC health officials say this second strain has a tendency to put people in the hospital.

Because of the increased risk, families are urged to make sure their senior loved one is not only vaccinated,  but follow a caregiver checklist when it comes to protecting them from flu through the end of season, which can be as late as May.       

Protecting seniors from the flu 

• Watch out for “senior” flu symptoms. A study published in the “Journal of the American Geriatrics Society” found 26 percent of hospitalized seniors with flu did not exhibit the usual symptoms like fever, body aches or a cough. 

• Flu symptoms in the elderly can include weakness, dizziness, loss of appetite and delirium.

• Monitor the senior’s diet. You want to make sure your loved one is making healthy choices like these to build up strength and immunity during flu season.   

• Whole Grains — Whole grains contain brown rice, oats and buckwheat which studies say help build healthy bacteria in your stomach, plus whole grains are loaded with zinc, an immune booster. 

• Garlic — This popular addition to many dishes contains allicine, a compound known to boost immunity.   

• Chicken Soup — A study published in the American Journal of Therapeutics found most recipes for chicken soup include a compound called carnosine, which can mobilize the immune system to fight the early stages of flu.  

• Constantly wipe away flu germs. The CDC reports viruses can live on surfaces for 24 hours and people with flu can spread it to others up to six feet away.  Throughout flu season use paper towels while cleaning. Germs like to grow in wet, moist areas like sponges and towels. Use paper towels with a disinfectant spray to frequently wipe down countertops, door knobs, light switches, railings and other surfaces a senior might touch throughout the day.  You can also use a Lysol sanitizing wipe as a backup.

• Frequently wash hands. Flu germs easily spread when someone touches their nose, mouth or eyes. Health officials recommend you wash hands with soap and water.  

• Help seniors relax during flu season, make sure they get plenty of rest.   Experts advise seven to nine hours of sleep a night to help build up immunity. 

• Everyone six months and older should get a flu vaccination.

• Last year’s death toll topped 80,000.

• If you get the flu, antiviral drugs, like Tamiflu, can make your illness less severe.

• If you get the flu, CDC recommends you stay home so you do not infect others.

Paula I. Bryant is the editor of The Gazette-Virginian. Contact her at pbryant@gazettevirginian.com.​

Paula I. Bryant is the editor of The Gazette-Virginian. Contact her at pbryant@gazettevirginian.com.