Learning From Our Elders to Fight Flu

By: Allison Hydzik and Ashley Trentrock

Reba Roberts, 99, and Dolores Spragale, 84, have learned a few things in their combined 183 years.

One of the top pieces of advice that they pass along to their friends is to get the flu shot. And now that a University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine study has shown that a type of flu vaccine designed for people 65 and older works well in the particularly vulnerable elderly population living in long-term care facilities, they’re being even more vocal.


Dolores Spragale and Reba Roberts.

“I was a nurse in the ’30s and ’40s and saw many people die of illnesses that we now have vaccines for,” said Ms. Roberts. “I just don’t understand why someone would NOT get the flu shot when it’s available and so easy to do!”

The women are both residents in Cumberland Crossing Manor at UPMC Passavant, an assisted living community in McCandless. They recently sat together discussing the new study, led by David A. Nace, M.D., chief of medical affairs for the UPMC Senior Communities and director of long-term care and flu programs in Pitt’s Division of Geriatric Medicine.

The study showed that the high-dose flu vaccine, manufactured by Sanofi Pasteur, helped elderly people in long-term care mount a better immune response to influenza than the standard flu shot.

That could make the high-dose flu shot particularly important this flu season. Federal officials are reporting that this year’s dominant flu strain is H3N2, which historically results in more deaths among the elderly. Each year over 90 percent of flu deaths are reported among people age 65 and older, with mortality 16 times higher among those 85 years old, compared to people 65 to 69 years old.

Both ladies agreed that it’s dangerous for their fellow seniors not to get the vaccine and stressed that the high-dose flu shot didn’t make them feel any different than the standard flu shot.

“Didn’t bother me a bit. I didn’t feel sick afterwards or anything,” said Ms. Spragale. “I didn’t even feel the needle go in or out to be honest.”

“Well, I did feel the needle,” Ms. Roberts chuckled. “Even though I was a nurse, I don’t like needles. But I don’t mind sticking them in other people!”