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Seniors Face a Blizzard of Winter Health Threats

Winter’s barrage of colds, flus and dangerous infections are a bear on everyone, but no one feels the fury of winter’s brutal elements more than senior citizens.

Winter’s heavy onslaught of bacterial and viral illnesses can be particularly threatening to America’s golden generation. An alarming one third of seniors die as the result of infectious diseases, according to the American Academy of Family Physicians.

The calendar’s coldest months are posing a unique and dangerous threat to seniors this winter. Here are winter 2015-16’s top bacterial and infectious threats targeting seniors:


Winter’s most common and prevalent virus is an annual seasonal hazard for seniors, who are among the flu’s most susceptible targets. The flu or flu-related complications kill tens of thousands of older Americans each year.

Many seniors have a harder time fighting off the flu because of medical conditions such as diabetes or cancer that have weakened their immune systems. Influenza can also cause pre-existing medical conditions to worsen. An annual flu vaccination is a must-have flu prevention measure for seniors. Fluzone High-Dose, which contains four times the normal flu-antigen dose, is also an effective flu control measure for people 65 and older, but may be more likely to cause side effects.

And, as Dr. W. Paul McKinney of the School of Public Health at the University of Louisville notes, current health is not an excuse for robust seniors to avoid the vaccine.

“There is no reason a healthy senior should ever defer a vaccine,” McKinney told


A perennially dangerous element of winter, pneumonia attacks seniors with pre-existing medical conditions swiftly and harshly. Fortunately, most pneumonia is bacterial and can be treated effectively with antibiotics. Cases caused by viruses and fungi may be less treatable. And when diagnosed late, pneumonia can lead to sepsis, a sometimes deadly systemic inflammatory reaction.

The pneumonia vaccine is widely available at drugstores and from doctors and can prevent seniors from contracting specific strains of the bacteria pneumococcus.

Gastrointestinal Infections

A wide range of gastrointestinal infections including Clostridium difficile and norovirus also threaten seniors during the dog days of winter. C-diff often occurs in someone who has been on antibiotics, particularly in a hospital or nursing home.

Norovirus is the most serious stomach inflammation illness threat to seniors. Commonly known as the stomach flu, norovirus – which is also the most common stomach inflammation illness in the United States – reaches its peak strength during the winter months. Extremely contagious, norovirus is the source of up to 21 million illnesses each year, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Like C-diff, norovirus spreads from person to person and is most common in long-term care facilities.

Seniors’ best defenses against gastrointestinal infections include good hand-washing hygiene, avoiding unnecessary antibiotics and ensuring your healthcare providers comply with the highest levels of infection-control measures.

Urinary Tract Infections

The good news about UTIs is, though while common, they are usually mild and easily treated with antibiotics. Danger sets in though when infections are missed and progress to a kidney infection, or in worst case scenarios, sepsis, which can be potentially deadly.

The anatomical changes many seniors are going through predispose them to UTIs. The use of catheters can also spread UTIs.

Skin infections

Damage to the surface of the skin can lead to skin infections. Few age groups are at greater risk of skin infections than the elderly. Cellulitis and infected skin ulcers are the most common skin infections in seniors.

“Elderly people are at increased risk as there is an accumulation of skin damage and loss of fatty tissue with age,” Iona, Munjal, M.D., infectious disease expert at Montefiore Medical Center, tells Newsmax Health. “Skin infections can be dangerous and even deadly in this group.”

Compounding the threat: Seniors are less mobile than younger people, meaning sores and infections may get worse because they are unable to care for them properly.

The key to preventing skin infections is to be aware of things that may lead to breaches in the skin like poorly fitted shoes, excessive sun exposure and scratches and cuts. Prompt treatment of skin infections is essential to preventing them from worsening and getting them under quick control.

It’s never easy getting older, but perhaps never tougher than while fighting winter’s fury of health threats. But with proper infection control knowledge and prevention techniques, America’s golden generation can stay on their feet, healthy and keep moving forward to the sunnier days of spring.


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