CDC: Elderly Not Hit As Hard By Swine Flu

MacKenzie Kimball, for HealthLeaders Media , June 5, 2009

A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed some elderly people may have a preexisting antibody that protects them from the H1N1 virus, also known as swine flu.

Each year in the United States, approximately 36,000 people die from complications related to the seasonal flu, and more than 90% of these deaths occur in people over the age of 65. The H1N1 virus does not seem to pose as much of a threat to the elderly as the seasonal flu. So far, the majority of H1N1 cases have occurred in people between the ages of 5 and 24, and there are very few cases occurring in people over the age of 64, according to the CDC.

So, why have so few H1N1 cases occurred in the elderly? One possibility is that older people may have been exposed to H1N1 strains in the past and, therefore, have a preexisting antibody to the current strain.

"The bottom line of the study is that adults might have some degree of preexisting cross-reactive antibody to the novel H1N1 flu virus, especially older adults, over 60 or over 65," said Anne Schuchat, interim deputy director for science and public health programs at the CDC, during a press briefing on May 21.

The fact that few elderly people have contracted the H1N1 virus is great news for nursing homes. However, this could change as the virus continues to spread. Nursing home staff members must continue to be on the lookout for signs and symptoms of this virus.

MacKenzie Kimball is an associate editor in the long-term care market at HCPro. She writes PPS Alert for Long-term Care and manages MDSCentral.

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