Flu prevention campaign for older adults launched in Malaysia

September 10, 2022
Flu prevention campaign for older adults launched in Malaysia

Influenza (flu) prevention is one of the key lifestyle changes to help older adults maintain good health and the assurance of independence and quality of life. Recently, the expert Immunise4Life (IFL) programme founded by the Ministry of Health Malaysia (MoH), launched a campaign, “Preventing the Flu at 65 and Beyond,” to encourage flu prevention among older persons – the campaign clarion call stresses: “Flu Prevention, I Get It Done.”

The launch event was officiated by YB Dato’ Dr. Haji Noor Azmi Bin Ghazali, Deputy Minister of Health. In his speech, Dato’ Dr. Haji Noor Azmi highlighted the importance of eating a healthy diet, staying physically active, getting adequate rest and sleep, going for regular health check-ups, learning new skills, and socialising with loved ones and friends, to keep oneself healthy and happy.

He urged older adults to prevent the flu by getting a flu vaccination every year, as it reduces the risk of severe disease, hospitalisation, and death.

Flu prevention campaign for older adults launched in Malaysia

The flu is a respiratory disease that can hit older adults hard and fast. According to the US Centers for Disease Control, up to 70% of hospitalisations and up to 85% of deaths related to the flu occur in those aged 65 years or older.

Dato’ Dr. Haji Noor Azmi also reminded the public to continue observing appropriate SOPs such as continuing to wear face masks where appropriate, frequent hand washing, and keeping one’s distance from those exhibiting respiratory symptoms.

Meanwhile, Professor Datuk Dr. Zulkifli Ismail, IFL Technical Committee Chairman, explained: “As we age, our immune system tends to weaken and our lung function also declines. These make it more likely for us to suffer or die from its effects.

“The flu may cause dizziness leading to falls, respiratory distress, and complications (such as pneumonia, inflammation of the brain, multi-organ failure or sepsis, an extreme immune system response to infection).

“The flu can be particularly problematic to older adults with pre-existing chronic health conditions, Professor Zulkifli added: “People with diabetes are 6 times more likely to be hospitalised and 3 times more likely to die due to flu-related complications, compared with people without diabetes. The flu can also worsen one’s diabetes and even trigger diabetic emergencies.

“The flu is just as bad for the heart. When trying to fight off the flu, the body’s inflammatory response can cause blood clots, elevated blood pressure, and even swelling or scarring within the heart. In adults over the age of 40 without a history of cardiovascular disease, these stressors can trigger a heart attack or stroke within the first 3 days of a flu infection. If older individuals have coronary artery disease, heart failure or other heart conditions, the flu could be utterly overwhelming.”

Older adults who are confined to prolonged bed rest due to the flu may lose muscle and strength, while potentially being exposed to other infections. They may also develop irreversible functional decline and be unable to perform simple daily tasks without help, spiralling even further into depression.

However, there still is hope.

“In older persons, annual flu vaccination has been shown to reduce the risk of flu-related hospitalisation and death by over 40%,” Professor Zulkifli said. “The yearly shot also benefits those living with diabetes by reducing their risk of stroke (by 30%), heart failure (22%), and heart attack (19%).

“As for cardiac patients, flu vaccination reduces the likelihood of major cardiovascular events (by 36%); chances of dying goes down by 18% among those with heart failure; [while] individuals who had a recent acute coronary syndrome may lower the risk of a poor outcome by 45%.”

Professor Zulkifli has suggested Malaysia should emulate other countries in offering free flu vaccination to high-risk groups, including the elderly. Benefits will include a significant decrease in flu-related hospitalisation and death, and a corresponding increase quality of life.

“In the meantime, let’s support the older generations in flu prevention through an all-of-society approach. Let us remind our aged parents to get their flu shot every year. Healthcare workers out there, get vaccinated yourselves and persuade your patients to do the same,” Professor Zulkifli said.

“Preventing the Flu at 65 and Beyond” is the fourth phase of the Flu Prevention is an Act of Love (AOL) initiative, which was launched in 2019 by Immunise4Life patron, Tun Dr. Siti Hasmah Mohd Ali.

The launch of the campaign will be followed with a series of educational activities coinciding with World Heart Day, International Day of Older Persons, World Diabetes Day, and the year-end holiday season.


Category: Community, Features

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