Colds and flu

Updated 11 July 2014

Flu and the elderly

More than 50 percent of the elderly with flu will develop respiratory infections, and more than 90 percent of deaths related to influenza occur in the elderly.


  • More than 50 percent of the elderly with flu, will develop respiratory infections.
  • More than 90 percent of deaths related to influenza occur in the elderly (65 years or older).
  • The elderly are the main target group for vaccination, but ironically the flu vaccine is 30-40 percent less effective at preventing the flu in older people. However, vaccination will reduce severe disease in the elderly, thereby decreasing hospitalisation by about 70 percent, and reducing the risk of death by about 80 to 85 percent.
  • Some doctors recommend that people at high risk for flu complications should be vaccinated against pneumococcal infection as well, as this complication can be fatal.
  • The traditional symptoms - such as a high fever - are not as prominent in the elderly. A raised pulse rate may be the clue to flu.
  • Older people who have emphysema, are especially at risk. Their hearts are already weakened, and contracting the flu might place undue pressure on an already stressed heart.

Reviewed (2006) by Dr Jane Yeats MBChB, BSc(Med)(Hons)Biochem, FCPathSA(Virology).


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Dr Heidi van Deventer completed her MBChB (Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery) degree in 2004 at the University of Stellenbosch.
She has additional training in ACLS (Advanced Cardiac Life Support) and PALS (Paediatric Advanced Life Support) as well as biostatistics and epidemiology.

Dr Van Deventer is currently working as a researcher at the Desmond Tutu Tuberculosis Centre at the University of Stellenbosch.

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