October 3, 2007 / 9:33 PM / 13 years ago

Flu jab cuts illness and death in elderly

Doses of a flu vaccine lie on a table as San Luis Obispo County public healthcare professionals conduct a mass flu vaccination drill at the Veterans building in San Luis Obispo, California October 31, 2006. REUTERS/Phil Klein

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - In a study of relatively healthy elderly HMO members, getting a flu shot significantly reduced the odds of being hospitalized with an influenza-related ailment and of dying.

“Our study confirms that influenza vaccination is beneficial for reducing hospitalization and death among community-dwelling HMO elderly over a 10-year period,” lead author Dr. Kristin L. Nichol, from the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, told Reuters Health.

“Our findings also suggest that vaccination — even during years when there is a poor match between vaccine and circulating viruses — can also be beneficial, even if the level of benefit is somewhat lower than during a good match year.”

As reported in The New England Journal of Medicine this week, the researchers analyzed data for elderly members of one HMO for 1990-1991 through 1999-2000, and from two other HMOs for 1996-1997 through 1999-2000.

Flu vaccination reduced the risk of hospitalization for pneumonia or influenza by 27 percent and reduced the risk of death by 48 percent, the report indicates.

“Current US vaccination rates among the elderly are stalled at about 65 percent — well below the 90 percent goal for the year 2010,” Nichol told Reuters Health. “This study should help to provide additional impetus for vaccination efforts.”

“This study provides additional support for the current strategy to vaccinate elderly adults,” Dr. John D. Treanor, from the University of Rochester in New York, notes in a related editorial. “There is no doubt that influenza is harmful and that the vaccine is beneficial and should be used widely.”

SOURCE: The New England Journal of Medicine, October 4, 2007.

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