• Don’t Let These 5 Myths About the Flu and Flu Vaccine Cause You To Pass Up Getting Vaccinated

    The 2019-2020 flu season is upon us. On average, 1 in 10 Americans get sick with the flu each year. Children are twice as likely to develop the flu than older adults, and children younger than 5 years are especially susceptible to serious flu-related complications. People 65 years and older, pregnant women, and people of any age with a chronic condition like asthma or diabetes are also at high risk of developing serious complications from the flu. 

    Table 1 flu

    The best way to protect yourself from the flu is to get vaccinated yearly. Yet, some people ignore the dangers of the flu and do not get vaccinated. Last year, 41% of adults were not vaccinated against the flu. Most were younger than 45 years. But even among older adults at high risk of flu-related complications, 1 in 4 said they did not plan to get a flu vaccine last year. This is unfortunate since the flu can affect even the healthiest among us and give us, at the very least, a miserable ride.

    There are many reasons why some people don’t get vaccinated against the flu. But it often has to do with mistaken beliefs or myths about the flu itself and the flu vaccine. Here are the most common myths:

    Myth 1: The flu is just a bad cold.

    The flu causes some symptoms similar to a bad cold, like a sore throat, runny nose, sneezing, hoarseness, chest congestion, and cough. However, the flu is much more debilitating than a bad cold, causing additional symptoms like fever, headache, muscle aches, and extreme fatigue. Someone with the flu feels like they have a serious illness—and they do!

    Myth 2: The flu vaccination can cause the flu.

    The flu vaccination cannot cause the flu. Flu vaccines are currently made in two ways, neither of which can cause the flu:

    • The flu virus has been inactivated (killed) and is therefore not infectious
    • Only a single gene from the flu virus is used to produce immunity without causing infection

    Some people report mild symptoms after the flu shot, such as soreness at the injection site or mild headache and muscle aches 1 to 2 days after vaccination. But this is not the flu. It takes 2 weeks after exposure to someone with the flu to cause symptoms. If you get the flu shortly after you get a flu vaccine, you most likely got exposed to someone with the flu 2 weeks prior to you receiving the flu vaccine and you were going to get sick anyway. If you get the flu more than 2 weeks after vaccination, you most likely caught a strain of the flu virus not covered by the vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises drug companies to make the flu vaccine every year based on the most likely strains to hit the US. It’s an educated guess, but sometimes a different strain makes its way into the US.

    The flu vaccine can vary in how well it works. Some people who get vaccinated may still get the flu. But the symptoms are usually much less severe than without the vaccine.

    Myth 3: I am healthy and have never gotten the flu, so I don’t need a flu shot.

    Although some people are more vulnerable to getting the flu and flu-related complications, not even the experts can predict who among us will get the flu. Just because you have never gotten (or think you have not gotten) the flu, this could be the year. Strains of the flu virus are constantly changing and may make you sick this time. Additionally, we all interact with each other, including those who may not be as resistant to viruses as you think you are. We touch doorknobs, counters, office furniture, grocery carts, and other public shared surfaces. When you get the flu, you are contagious even a day before you have symptoms. In addition, 20% to 30% of people carrying the flu virus have no symptoms at all. Any hard surfaces that get flu virus germs on them can remain contagious for up to 48 hours. To be blunt, even when you don’t feel sick, you may be sick and can make others around you sick.

    When you get vaccinated against the flu, you are not just protecting yourself. You are helping to protect everyone around you, including people who are unable to get the flu vaccination due to health reasons (e.g., those with a weak immune system, babies younger than 6 months).

    Myth 4: I don’t need a flu vaccination this year because I got one last year.

    Getting vaccinated yearly is important to make sure you have immunity to the strains most likely to cause a flu outbreak. Flu viruses often change each year, so this year’s flu vaccine is different than last year’s flu vaccine. Even if the flu vaccine has not changed since the previous flu season, yearly vaccination is still recommended for just about everyone 6 months and older. A person’s protection from the flu vaccine declines over time. So, yearly vaccination is needed to get the best protection against the flu.

    Myth 5: It’s too late to get vaccinated after Thanksgiving.

    The flu is unpredictable, so flu seasons can vary. Seasonal flu usually peaks between December and March most years, but illnesses may occur as late as May. If you have not been vaccinated by Thanksgiving, it can still be protective to get vaccinated in December or later. Even if vaccination doesn’t prevent you from getting the flu, it can greatly decrease the chance of severe symptoms.

    Here’s what you can do: During this year’s flu season, take the necessary steps to stay healthy. Don’t let myths about the flu and flu vaccination get in the way of good medical care. Be sure to separate fact from myth when making a decision about whether to get vaccinated.

    Also, take these additional precautions during the flu season, even if you have been (or plan to get) vaccinated:

    • Stay away from people who are sick.
    • Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing and sneezing. If no tissue is available, cough or sneeze into your elbow instead of your hands.
    • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water, especially when you are out in public; after blowing your nose, sneezing, and coughing; and before eating or touching your mouth or nose.
    • Don’t share dishes, glasses, or eating utensils.
    • Avoid direct contact with napkins, tissues, handkerchiefs, or similar items used by others.
    • Eat healthier and stay hydrated.
    • Disinfect surfaces often in your home and office.
    • If you start feeling ill, minimize your contact with others. If you can stay home from work, do it and your co-workers will thank you. Staying home and resting is your best bet for a quick recovery.

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