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National Influenza Vaccination Week

Each year National Influenza Vaccination (NIVW) is observed in order to highlight the importance of continuing influenza vaccination. This year the annual awareness week is observed across the county from December 8-14.

A yearly flu vaccination is the first and best defense against the flu and its related complications that could lead to severe illness, hospitalization and even death. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone 6 months and older get a flu vaccine each year.

The flu is among the most common, contagious respiratory illnesses in the U.S., infecting millions of people every flu season. The severity of flu illness can range from mild to severe, and may include symptoms such as fever or feeling feverish/chills, cough, sore throat, runny of stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, fatigue, vomiting and diarrhea. When severe, flu complications can lead to hospitalization and sometimes even death. Some populations, including individuals with certain health conditions and older adults, are at risk for flu-related complications. As a result, it is recommended that these populations always get a flu vaccination each year. However, while the flu is particularly dangerous for certain people, it can cause severe illness and even death for anyone, regardless of whether or not they are “high risk.” Even healthy children and young adults can get very sick from the flu.

“One of the greatest challenges we face from the flu is the uncertainty of the disease,” explains Dr. Anne Schuchat, Director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Flu viruses are constantly changing. Each flu season, different flu viruses can spread, and they can affect people differently based on their body’s ability to fight infection.” Since flu viruses are constantly changing and immunity can decline over time, annual vaccination is needed for optimal protection.

Thanks to medical advancements, getting a flu vaccine is now more convenient than ever before. Vaccines are available in a variety of locations, including from your doctor or local health department, and at many pharmacies.

Many employers, schools, and retail stores also offer flu vaccines. Additionally, there are several vaccine options for the 2013-14 season. CDC does not recommend one vaccine over the other, so talk to your doctor or nurse about the best option for you. Use the vaccine finder to find a flu vaccination clinic near you.

 

Sharing the Best of Us on Giving Tuesday

“I earn $400 in Social Security and $400 for supplemental. But I pay more than $600 in rent… [and] I have to pay for other bills and food is expensive. I also have to pay for medicines. If Social Security is cut, are we going to end up in the streets?”

– Ana Margarita, Los Angeles NHCOA 2013 Regional Meeting


Just like Ana Margarita, there are thousands of seniors across the country who are facing difficulties in meeting their daily basic needs.  Today, Giving Tuesday, is an invitation for us to share the best of us with those most in need. 

Each year, we gather around an abundant and plentiful table with our loved ones to be thankful for what we have received through the year. Today, on Giving Tuesday we remember those who depend on soup kitchens, local organizations, and dedicated grassroots and community leaders to receive at least one meal a day.

Over the past several years we have been on a mission to give faces to the statistics that reflect the situations many Hispanic older adults across the country live on a daily basis. Perhaps the most difficult reality we grappled with was listening to older adults repeatedly admit, embarrassed and in tears, that they were going to bed hungry and were lucky to eat once a day.

As the leading organization focused on improving the lives of Hispanic older adults, their families, and caregivers, we wanted them to know that we cared about them. We wanted them to know that we understood their plight and wanted to ensure they had a better quality of life: affordable housing, access to health care, and the ability to eat three nutritious meals each day.

Giving Tuesday is a tremendous opportunity to support organizations like NHCOA who are working on behalf of older Americans. Today, we invite you to give what you can to those who are in need. It could be volunteering at a social service center, giving time to accompany the lonely, offering a word of encouragement to the afflicted, or sharing a contribution to feed the hungry. Anything you give can help make seniors’ lives in your community better and brighter. NHCOA promises to continue working to ensure that all older adults can make the best of their golden years.

NHCOA Encourages Everyone to Share Responsibility for an AIDS-Free Generation on World AIDS Day

world_logo1Each year World AIDS Day (WAD) is observed on December 1st and provides an opportunity for people around the world to unite in the fight against HIV/AIDS, show their support for people living with HIV/AIDS and commemorate people who have died. WAD was first observed in 1988, making it the first ever international health day. The National Hispanic Council on Aging (NHCOA) encourages everyone to use WAD as a platform to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS in your community and around the world. You can use the materials in NHCOA’s 2013 WAD toolkit to help in your outreach efforts.

More than 25 million people have died of AIDS worldwide since the first case of HIV was observed over 30 years ago in the U.S. What was once considered to be a death sentence is now classified as a manageable chronic disease. While unprecedented advances in medical treatment have been made, there is still much work to be done in the quest to make an AIDS-free generation a reality. Today 33.4 million people are living with HIV/AIDS worldwide.

Domestically, over 1 million people in the U.S. are living with HIV. Hispanics continue to be disproportionately affected by HIV. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Hispanics account for approximately 17 percent of the U.S. population, but comprised 21 perfect of new HIV infections in 2010. As such, the rate of new HIV infections for Hispanics is three times the rate for non-Hispanic whites.

However, HIV/AIDS doesn’t just affect the health of individuals living with it; it impacts families, friends and communities, as well as the development and economic growth of nations. Many of the countries hardest hit by HIV also suffer from other infection diseases, food insecurity and other serious issues.

Although WAD provides a great opportunity to for public discourse about HIV/AIDS, it’s important to continue these efforts throughout the year. This is why NHCOA joined the fight against HIV/AIDS in 2011, becoming one of three national Hispanic/Latino partners of the CDC’s Act Against AIDS Leadership Initiative (AAALI), a multi-year national communication initiative to reduce the incidence of HIV/AIDS among diverse communities. NHCOA uses community outreach and communication efforts to reach and inform Latino senior, their families, and caregivers about HIV/AIDS, as well encourage them to talk HIV in their communities and with loved ones.

Caught in the Deportation Machine: Elders, Family Separation, and Immigration Reform

Cross-posted from the Diverse Elders Coalition blog.

By Mari Quenenmoen, Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC)

This year, the Obama administration will surpass the 2 million mark – this is, it will have deported 2 million people since 2008, more than any other administration in history. The largest numbers of people being deported are those without legal status, but many Green card holders are also among the 2 million deportees. Since 1998, over 13,000 Southeast Asians (from Cambodia, Laos, and Vietnam) have been deported, including many Green card holders who arrived in the U.S. decades ago as refugees fleeing war and genocide. The majority of those deported are under the age of 35, but many elders also get caught in the deportation machine. Even more elders who remain in the U.S. suffer emotionally and financially when their adult children are taken away.

Despite official Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) guidance that agents should not “expend detention resources” on those who are elderly, many immigrant elders are detained and deported. According to information gathered through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by the NYU School of Law Immigrant Rights Clinic, the Immigrant Defense Project, and Families for Freedom, between 2005 and 2010 the New York City ICE Field Office apprehended 1,275 noncitizens over the age of 55, and of these, at least 141 were subject to mandatory detention. Seniors struggle more than most in detention – they are more likely to be Limited English Proficient, and are more likely to suffer from health problems and dementia.

Huyen Thi Nguyen, an elderly Vietnamese woman, was detained in an immigration detention center for 16 months after serving her sentence for cash-for-food stamp fraud. She continues to fight her deportation, while suffering from mild dementia. Claudette Hubbard escaped LGBT violence in Jamaica in 1973 and became a U.S. Green card holder. She has been detained by ICE for over two years because of a 20-year-old conviction from a drug charge, even though she has fully rehabilitated and is mother and grandmother to U.S. citizens.

Claudette Hubbard with her U.S. citizen daughter and granddaughters

 

Claudette Hubbard with her U.S. citizen daughter and granddaughters
Deportations Harm the Children and Parents of Those Deported

Human Rights Watch estimates that between 1997 and 2007, 1,012,734 people lost an immediate family member to deportation – and this figure does not take into account the almost 2 million people deported under the current administration. The Applied Research Center (now Race Forward) found that in the first six months of 2011 alone, more than 46,000 parents of citizen children were deported, leaving many in foster care or Child Protective Services. A survey conducted in 2004 revealed that 70% of deportees and family members exhibited signs of post-traumatic stress disorder, including hopelessness, despair, sadness and shock.

In the Cambodian community, elders whose children are deported may suffer especially severely because of already high rates of poverty and poor mental health. According to 2010 American Community Survey numbers compiled by the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC), 22% of Cambodian elders over 65 live in poverty, compared with 9% of elders in the general population. Many elders came to the U.S. after fleeing the genocide, during which nearly every Cambodian family lost at least one and usually multiple members to starvation, torture, and murder. A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association of several hundred Cambodian adults in Long Beach, CA, between 2003 and 2005 found that 62% exhibited signs of PTSD and 51% suffered from major depression. Rates increased with age – older Cambodians were more likely to be suffering from mental health issues than average. The deportation of a son or daughter can have a devastating impact on Cambodian elders, who may suffer retraumatization and extreme financial hardship.

Loeun Lun, whose story was featured in the film “Sentenced Home”, arrived in the U.S. as a refugee in 1981 when he was 6 years old. His mother suffered from depression and PTSD, and they lost his father when he was a young child. After struggling throughout his adolescence to adapt in his new, poor Long Beach neighborhood, Loeun was convicted of two counts of assault for shooting a gun in the air during a confrontation when he was 19. No one was hurt, but he served 11 months in jail. After his release, Loeun changed his life. He became the primary caretaker for his aging mother, working at two factory jobs while studying for his MBA. He married his U.S. citizen girlfriend, had two daughters, paid off debts, and moved his family to the suburbs. However, despite turning his life around, the old criminal charge came back to haunt him. Loeun was arrested by ICE in 2002 and deported to Cambodia a year later. Leoun’s elderly mother was emotionally devastated by the loss of her son, and now has no one to care for her.

Time for Real Immigration Reform that Keeps Families Together

Comprehensive immigration reform would help keep many undocumented families together. But current proposals in Congress would not help someone like Loeun, whose crime is categorized as an “aggravated felony” under immigration law. Because current laws are so harsh and rigid, even the terrible impact on Loeun’s children, wife, and mother could not prevent him from being deported. Elderly immigrants, including Green card holders, can also be deported regardless of age, physical or mental health, or length of time in the U.S. if they have a criminal record in their history that fits under the broad range of convictions and sentences that result in mandatory deportation. We need true immigration reform that prioritizes keeping all families together, including those like Loeun’s, Claudette’s, and Huyen Thi Nguyen’s.

Mari Quenemoen is a Policy Manager at the Southeast Asia Resource Action Center (SEARAC). The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Diverse Elders Coalition.

Sharing Stories, Leaving Legacies: How Intergenerational Programs Empower Diverse Elders

Cross-posted from the Diverse Elders Coalition blog.

By Hitomi Yoshida, Research Associate, Temple University Intergenerational Center

Thanksgiving is a time for gratitude, reunions, and celebrations with family. However, many of us have ambivalent feelings about these family interactions. Our mixed feeling can range from the joy of re-connecting to anxiety around different values and expectations that exist within the family, especially between generations. This ambivalence may be experienced every day in multigenerational families, and statistics indicate that immigrant seniors are more likely to live in multi-generational households. Contrary to the stereotypical picture of a large, tight-knit immigrant family surrounding their elders with relevance and constant caregiving support, the nature of intergenerational relationships within immigrant families is more complex. Older immigrants interviewed in the research conducted by the Temple University Intergenerational Center (the “Center”) shared their sense of isolation within their family and community due to lack of time for meaningful interactions, language and value differences, and the acculturation of younger generations.

A Vietnamese senior from Philadelphia expressed his sense of disconnect.

“In Asian culture…parents take care of children, then children take care of parents when they are old…but in America, …[your adult children are] busy spending time working, their children go to school…so these things separate the family…you have to compete with these things [and] there is no room [for elders] to teach about culture.”

The role loss and the decreasing value of elders’ wisdom in American society are major barriers to the well-being of immigrant seniors. As one Somali community leader in Minneapolis explained, “Elders as advisors….that concept is lost here.”

What Can Be Done: Intergenerational Programs

To increase young people’s understanding of aging issues, bridge generations and restore roles for elders as leaders, Project SHINE, the Center’s immigrant initiative, piloted intergenerational programs by partnering with four ethnic-based community agencies across the country: the Cambodian Association of Greater Philadelphia (CAGP), PA;Boat People SOS (BPSOS)-Delaware Valley, Camden, NJ; Confederation of Somali Communities in Minnesota (CSCM), MN; and El Centro de Accion Social (El Centro), Pasadena, CA.

Intergenerational Program Photo

In Pasadena, CA, an increasing number of Mexican-American children are raised by their grandparents. Although they may form an initial bond, as children grow into their teenage years, tension often arises because of the grandparents’ traditional parenting style. Elders lament that their grandchildren are always on their cell phones or computers. Elders in the El Centro’s senior program expressed how difficult it is for them to connect with their grandchildren. Many felt that their teenagers were “spoiled,” “ungrateful,” and “disrespectful.”

Working with the Intergenerational Center, El Centro bridged its senior and youth programs. They guided participants to share their life-stories in a series of joint meetings, and posed questions ranging from “How old are you and where were you born?” to “How did your family migrate here? How did you cross the border?” and “Tell me about the time when you faced a difficulty and how you overcame it?”

Other intergenerational activities under this initiative included a joint advocacy trip to Washington, D.C., a community garden to address food security and preserve cultural heritage, and a local field trip to a cultural site. All sites incorporated story-sharing in their activities to promote active listening between generations. These intergenerational programs emerged as a promising strategy to enhance community-wide support for and leadership development of diverse elders. The key common outcomes for the programs included:

• Building Youths’ Empathy and Support for Elders

The intergenerational activities increased youths’ awareness of the struggles and strengths of the elders in their communities. Participants now believe that aging issues are family and community-wide issues that all generations should engage in. Teenage participants reflected on their experiences:

“You should never judge a book by its cover. I used to think elder people were boring, but they aren’t. They are interesting and their stories are mainly sad….”

“Now I know more about what they (elders) went through and are going through. I know why sometimes they can be angry about the ways things are with their lives…..Why Vietnamese elders are frustrated when they see youth not taking school seriously…some never had educational opportunities like we do.”

• Recognizing Common Struggles

Active listening enabled elders and youths to connect across common challenges they face in their lives. Elders’ perception that “American kids have it easy” has changed through story-sharing. Ms. Pamela Cantero at El Centro reported, “Now they see that young people are going through their own hardships…. they say, ‘Maybe I should just stand back and allow this child to talk to me’.”

El Centro’s Mexican seniors learned that some kids skip school because they experience marginalization at school just like many Mexican seniors do in the community. One senior shared, “I didn’t understand the term ‘bullying’ [before], but after my interaction with one of the students, I was so amazed to hear about some of the stuff students go through.” Another elder stressed the importance of mutual listening. “We must respect their beliefs if we want them to respect ours.”

• Restoring and Developing Elders’ Leadership

Service agencies for the aging often see limited-English speaking elders only as their clients who need assistance. Intergenerational programs have shifted this paradigm by engaging immigrant elders as cultural resources and leaders. Elder immigrant clients can also be contributors and leaders with whom organizations can partner to strengthen families and communities.

Ms. Chanphy Heng, staff at the Cambodian Association of Greater Philadelphia, reflected, “This project gave elders a sense of pride. They think young people are more educated [than they are] and often shy away from sharing their wisdom. Now they feel that young people want to know [about] their life…Even if they do not have a degree or money, they have so much to pass on.”

Possibilities for Deepening Interactions in the Immigrant Families

Elders and youths in the intergenerational projects were not related as family members, yet many participants now see a possibility for developing a deeper relationship with their own grandparents and grandchildren based on their experience in the intergenerational program.

One Vietnamese-American student told me that she never had a sit-down conversation with her grandfather who lives close by. Now she wants to listen to his stories.

“I feel this has become more of a necessity…If I don’t listen to his story, it will be lost ….If I can do this with elderly who are not my family, why can’t I do this with my own grandpa?”

• The Intergenerational Pilot Projects were made possible by the support of MetLife Foundation.

Hitomi Yoshida is a Research Associate at the Temple University Intergenerational Center. She conducts community-based needs assessments and evaluations with immigrant and refugee communities. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Diverse Elders Coalition.

Healthy Tips to Prevent the Flu

As the temperature steadily continues to fall, the risk of catching the flu continues to rise across the country. While the first and most important step you can take to prevent the flu is to get a yearly vaccine, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends some additional tips to keep you and your family healthy this winter. Among these tips are:

  • Avoid close contact with individuals who are sick.
  • Stay at home when you are sick. Rest plays an important role in recuperation. Also, by staying home you will prevent others from catching your illness.
  • Cover your nose and mouth when you cough and sneeze, so as to not spread illness.
  • Clean your hands with soap and water or an alcohol-based sanitizer often in order kill germs.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. These are prime areas for germs to enter the body.

Striving to live a healthy lifestyle by cleaning and disinfecting your living space, getting plenty of sleep, exercising regularly, drinking lots of fluids and eating a nutritious diet can also help in preventing illness.  Share with us how you are keeping your loved ones safe this flu season in the comments section!

NHCOA Encourages Everyone to Raise Awareness During National Diabetes Month

November is National Diabetes Month – an annual observation established to educate and raise awareness about this challenging chronic disease. While diabetes affects millions of people and families across the country, myths and misinformation are still prevalent, which can be problematic when addressing how to prevent and manage the disease. During November, the National Hispanic Council on Aging (NHCOA) encourages you to use the materials in our toolkit to help educate and raise awareness about diabetes among your loved ones and community members.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) diabetes is a disease in which blood glucose levels are above normal. This disease can remain silent for years, but ultimately may cause serious health complications, including heart disease, blindness, kidney failure and lower-extremity amputations. Overall, diabetes is the seventh leading cause of death in the U.S. As of 2011, diabetes affects 25.8 million people, or 8.3 percent, of the U.S. population. The CDC estimates that this includes 18.8 million diagnosed individuals and seven million undiagnosed individuals.

While diabetes impacts every person it touches, this chronic disease has a disproportionate impact on diverse communities, including Hispanics. In fact, Latinos are 1.5 times more likely to have diabetes compared to the non-Hispanic white population. This is due to several factors, including obesity, hypertension, inactivity and high cholesterol. Moreover, in 2010, more than a quarter of older Americans ages 65 and older had diabetes. For those of us who have diabetes or have a diabetic loved one, we know first-hand how the impact of this disease goes beyond the medical complications that patients eventually develop. Diagnosed and undiagnosed diabetes represent large medical costs. It also hurts the economy as it causes disability, lost productivity and premature mortality. In 2007 alone, the total cost of diabetes was $218 billion.

While there is no cure to for diabetes, there are ways to prevent it, manage it and/or avoid complications. Among these are:

  • Maintaining a healthy diet
  • Participating in physical activity every day (i.e. walking, dancing, exercise, etc.)
  • Educating yourself and loved ones about diabetes, its symptoms and how to prevent and/or manage it
  • Working with your doctor to create a wellness plan and following his/her instructions

As a result of the high rate of diabetes in the Hispanic community, NHCOA created Salud y Bienestar (Health and Well-Being) – a national flagship program that educates and informs Hispanic older adults, their families and caregivers on how to prevent and/or manage diabetes and its complications. Originally funded by the CDC, Salud y Bienestar has helped thousands of Latino seniors and families over the last several years make healthier lifestyle changes.

Employment and Demographic Changes and the Need for Paid Sick Days

By Jason Coates, Public Policy Associate

One of the National Hispanic Council on Aging’s (NHCOA) biggest priorities is empowering people to enter old age with economic security.  These goals have become more difficult in recent years, as middle class households have seen their incomes decline.  Further, since the financial crisis in 2008, the U.S. economy has lost middle income jobs.  Making matters worse, the largest job gains have come in the form of lower wage occupations, which are more likely to lack paid sick leave.  These two factors – the replacement of middle wage jobs with low wage jobs and the tendency of low wage work to lack the benefit of paid sick days – means that the time is ripe for federal, state and local governments to enact policies that enable working people attain economic security. 

NHCOA supports efforts to pass paid sick and family leave laws.  By allowing people to earn paid time off to recover from an illness or care for a loved one, these policies help maintain the economic security of Hispanic families and communities.  The Family and Medical Leave Act was passed in 1993, but no other federal sick and family leave laws have been enacted since.  A lot has happened since 1993, however.  The country is becoming older, as the Baby Boomer birth cohort turns 65.  Family caregiving is becoming common, as well, as there are over 40 million people who care for another adult over the age of 50. 

Demographic, health and economic changes need to be met by responses in policy.  Paid sick days laws in Connecticut, New York City and San Francisco, and family and medical leave laws in California and New Jersey are policies that support the economic security of working people.  NHCOA supports the Healthy Families Act, a national paid sick days law, and the FAMILY Act, a national law which would provide paid family and medical leave.  These laws will improve the quality of jobs, enhance economic security, allow people to recover from illness and keep illnesses from spreading.  NHCOA looks forward to a time when all workers will have access to paid sick days and paid family and medical leave. 

AAALI: How to Protect against HIV

The National Hispanic Council on Aging (NHCOA) encourages Latinos of all ages to “Act Against AIDS” in order to make an AIDS-free generation a reality. As an Act Against AIDS Leadership Initiative partner, NHCOA emphasizes the importance of people getting the facts, getting tested and getting involved to combat HIV/AIDS. But one of the most important steps we can take to act against AIDS is to prevent the spread of HIV by taking preventative measures first. While there is no cure for HIV, there are ways to prevent getting the virus.

It’s important to remember that the best HIV prevention method is abstinence or a long-term mutually monogamous relationship where both partners have been tested and are confirmed to be HIV-negative. However, reality does not always match these ideal situations. The following preventative methods are recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to help protect against HIV:

  • Condoms: male or female condoms should be used every time and changed with each sex act (oral, vaginal and anal sex). Male condoms, which cover the penis, protect better than female condoms; however, using a female condom is better than no protection at all. Condoms made from latex provide the greatest protection, but polyurethane or plastic condoms are good alternatives for those with latex allergies.
  • Substance use and abuse: Substance use, including alcohol and drugs, may result in impaired judgment and reduced inhibitions may increase engaging in risky behaviors, such as unprotected sex. Additionally drug abuse that includes sharing of used needles, which are usually contaminated with blood, may result in HIV infection, if these items are shared with HIV-positive individuals. In order to avoid spreading the virus, people who use intravenous (IV) drug should never share needles. Many communities have clean needle exchange programs and now many pharmacies and medical centers sell disposable needles. However, seeking substance abuse treatment is the best way to avoid the high risk of contracting HIV from substance use and IV drug use. Find a treatment center near you: http://www.samhsa.gov/treatment/index.aspx
  • Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP): PrEP is a medicine that may provide some protection against HIV infection at-risk HIV-negative individuals. For example, for mixed-status couples (when one person in the relationship is HIV-positive and the other is HIV-negative) doctors often recommend that the HIV-negative partner take PrEP as a precaution, in addition to using condoms and getting tested.
  • Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP): this treatment consists of taking selected HIV medications (anti-retrovirals) within 72 hours of potential exposure to HIV. The medications are prescribed after an evaluation of the exposure by a health care provider, to be sure that it is based on established guidelines. This form of protection against HIV should be used by anyone who may have been exposed to HIV. Examples of exposure may include:
    o    An accidentally puncture with a used needle in a health care or other setting
    o    Condom breakage during sexual activities of a mixed-status couple
    o    Rape
    o    High risk sexual activity while being impaired due to alcohol or drugs
    Although PEP doesn’t guarantee that the person will not contract HIV; however, it is important to know that this is available for use within 72 hours of exposure and under medical supervision.
  • Mother-to-child Transmission of HIV (MCTC): When a mother is HIV-positive there is a strong risk that the baby may become infected with HIV at birth or during breastfeeding. Therefore it is important for all expectant mothers to have an HIV test, as suggested in current guidelines. Timely testing and treatment of the mother and the newborn can reduce the chance of transmission of HIV to the newborn significantly. This is particularly important for women that have not had appropriate prenatal care (including HIV testing) and present at an emergency room in labor.

For more information on HIV prevention, you can visit: http://www.cdc.gov/actagainstaids/basics/prevention.html.

Vacunemonos: the Flu, Diabetes and HIV/AIDS

For most people, the flu is a respiratory illness that is unpleasant, but remedied by rest and medicine. Common flu symptoms may include a high fever, cough and/or sore throat, a runny or stuffy nose, headaches and/or body aches, chills, fatigue, nausea, vomiting and/or diarrhea.  However, the flu can be more serious for some groups of people, including young children, older adults and individuals with certain health conditions, such as diabetes and HIV/AIDS.

Diabetes is a chronic disease in which blood glucose levels are above normal. Diabetes can weaken your immune system, making it harder for your body to fight the flu virus. Additionally, being sick can raise your blood glucose and prevent you from eating properly. This may result in a negative impact in diabetes care because diet and exercise are important components of managing the disease. When the flu and diabetes intersect you are also at risk of flu-related complications like pneumonia.

HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, also weakens the body’s immune system, gradually destroying the body’s ability to fight infection and certain cancers. Studies show that HIV-positive individuals have an increased risk for heart and lung-related hospitalizations during flu season as a result of HIV/AIDS and serious influenza-related complications. There is also a higher risk of flu-related death in HIV-positive people.

Due to the severity of possible complications, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that individuals with HIV/AIDS or diabetes receive a flu vaccine each year. It’s important to note that the nasal spray version is not safe for individuals living with HIV/AIDS or diabetes. This vaccine contains a weakened form of the live flu virus and is only approved for use among healthy people, ages two to 49 that are not pregnant.

Vaccines are for everyone, regardless of age, but they are particularly important for Hispanic older adults, who are disproportionately impacted by chronic diseases that can cause severe flu complications. Data shows that Hispanic older adults are five times more like to have HIV than non-Hispanic white seniors and Latinos overall are 1.5 times more likely to have diabetes than non-Hispanic whites.

Despite these facts, Hispanic older adults have lower flu vaccination rates than the general population. As a result of this gap in vaccination rates, the National Hispanic Council on Aging (NHCOA) created Vacunémonos (Let’s Get Vaccinated) – a cultural, linguistic and age-appropriate program that seeks to increase vaccination rates among Hispanic older adults, their families and caregivers. Since its inception, Vacunémonos has trained 146 promotores de salud (lay health workers) and reached over 6,000 individuals through interpersonal and one-on-one educational sessions. To learn more about Vacunémonos, please visit the program webpage.