The holiday season is supposed to be a time of comfort and joy. Unfortunately, it also coincides with peak flu season. And that tends to be full of ache and misery.

Common flu symptoms include sore throats, congestion, coughing, body aches, chills, and fever. Some people may experience diarrhea or vomiting. While these effects are at best irritating and at worst incapacitating for the average adult, the flu can be especially hard on older people who tend to have weaker immune systems.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 90 percent of seasonal flu-related hospitalizations and flu-related deaths in the United States are more prevalent among people ages 65 and older.

Vaccines are still the best way to prevent getting the flu. Flu strains are a little different every year, so staying up-to-date on your vaccinations is important. Ideally, you will get your flu shot in the fall. But with peak flu season typically running through February, it is definitely not too late to get vaccinated in December.

Special flu vaccines for people 65 years and older have been available in recent years in addition to the regular vaccine. They include:

  • Fluzone High-Dose influenza vaccine
  • Flublok Quadrivalent
  • Fluad Quadrivalent

They contain four times the amount of antigen found in a regular flu shot. Antigen is the part of the vaccine that makes antibodies to fight the flu virus. Since older people tend to have a lower immune response, these special vaccines help their bodies compensate.

Research indicates that these high-dose vaccines are 24 percent more effective in preventing flu in the people they studied who were 65 years of age or older. Most people had no adverse effects from the vaccines. Others had similar effects to a regular flu vaccine including mild and temporary pain and swelling at the injection site, headache, muscle aches, and fever.

Good health habits are also important for preventing or spreading the flu. Remember these six important tips:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick, so you won’t catch it.
  • If you are sick, stay home as much as possible so your virus won’t spread.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze
  • Germs are most often spread through touching your eyes, nose, or mouth after coming into contact with a contaminated area. Try to avoid touching those areas.
  • Wash your hands frequently whether or not you are sick. This will help protect you from germs.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently-touched surfaces in the home.

If you are over 65 and develop flu symptoms, see your health practitioner as soon as possible. Antiviral drugs are most helpful when started during the early stages of the virus. The longer you wait, the greater your risk is for other health complications.