IFA highlights importance of flu awareness to vulnerable populations

Today, on World Heart Day, the International Federation on Ageing (IFA) calls on all health care professionals to encourage older people and most importantly those with cardiovascular disease in their care to be vaccinated against the serious and life-altering infectious diseases of influenza and pneumonia.

Each year, influenza is estimated to attack 5–10% of adults and 20–30% of children, resulting in 3 to 5 million cases of severe illness and about 290,000 to 650,000 respiratory deaths worldwide.

Everyone faces threats from influenza but older people and adults with non-communicable diseases (NCDs) are more at risk than others (including the risk of complications, hospitalizations and even death due to influenza) because of their weakened immunity. For those with cardiovascular disease, respiratory infection (frequently caused by influenza viruses) is estimated to increases the chances of having a heart attack by six-fold within a week of onset, and trigger 50% of heart failure exacerbations.

While the influenza vaccine is a recommended action in many countries, rates of vaccination for those most vulnerable are at an all-time low with grandparents, older workers, friends and family suffering diminished function and in many cases death. Public health messages and conversations with a health care professional that translate into action are in urgent need.

To gain a deeper understanding of the gaps and potential areas for improvement in public health messages on adult vaccination for healthy older people and vulnerable populations such as those with heart disease, the IFA is studying campaign material materials from government and patient and advocacy associations in ten countries.

Preliminary findings suggest that the national influenza awareness campaign is resource-rich in the United States and the United Kingdom with vulnerable people being targeted in communications about the seriousness of influenza and the protective effect of vaccines. In Canada and Australia, the messages intended for most at-risk populations are relatively sparse.

In Asian countries, like China and Japan, the gap is much more apparent since patient organizations and ageing associations either fail or inadequately communicate to their constitutes the importance of influenza prevention to healthy ageing, therefore education materials and resources are very limited.

The IFA argues that current awareness campaigns on influenza vaccination should pay more attention to the most at-risk people, to avoid leaving anyone uninformed.

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