Squashing Five Myths about the Flu
It’s that time of year again…
If you haven’t already, now is the perfect time to get your flu shot!
I’m seeing a lot more cases of the flu in my Methodist Physicians Clinic offices, and viruses in and around the metro are on the rise. It is estimated 15-62 million people will get the flu each year. Influenza causes as many as 200,000 people to be admitted into the hospital each year.
How you get the flu
The flu spreads when someone who is sick coughs, sneezes or talks, and the droplets land on another person. It can also spread when those virus-filled droplets land on a surface, and then a person touches that surface and then their own mouth, eyes or nose.
Once infected, you can pass influenza to another person before you even know you are sick. Healthy adults can spread the flu up to a day before symptoms even develop, and five to seven days after becoming sick!
An unpredictable illness
The flu can be very unpredictable. Some years will be mild where a few people become ill or symptoms are mild. On the other hand, there are also years where influenza is particularly aggressive and can affect many more people with more severe symptoms. Each year depends upon which type of flu viruses are spreading, the availability of vaccination, the number of people to have been vaccinated, and how well the vaccine matches that year’s strain of virus.
Why get a vaccine?
It is important to remember that the flu vaccine is not necessarily just about protecting you. Vaccination with flu shots is about “herd immunity.” As I said, many unhealthy patients can be infected with the flu without even realizing they are ill. They can pass the virus on to others with weakened immune systems or who can’t be vaccinated themselves for other medical reasons. The concept of herd immunity is to vaccinate as many members of our population as we can in order to protect those who cannot be vaccinated.
Vaccine myths: busted
There are a lot of myths about vaccinations in general, and I want to set the record straight when it comes to the five most common:
Myth 1: “I don’t want to get the flu from the flu shot.”
Fact: You absolutely canNOT get the flu from the flu vaccine. No matter which vaccine you receive, the vaccine is either inactive or altered. It can NOT cause the flu.
Myth 2: “I don’t need the flu shot, I never get the flu.”
Fact: Although protecting your own health is a major concern, the flu shot is not just about you. The influenza virus is very contagious. A young, healthy person can contract and spread the virus before they are even aware that they are ill. Vaccinating healthy individuals will help stop the spread of this virus to the high risk populations: kids under the age of five, the elderly, pregnant women and those with compromised immune systems.
Myth 3: “I’m allergic to eggs, so I can’t get the flu shot.”
Fact: Not all versions of the flu vaccine are prepared in eggs. Currently there are two different vaccines, Flublock and Flucelvax, that do not use eggs in the manufacturing process. Check with your primary care provider or pharmacy to see if one of these vaccines is available.
Myth 4: “I got the flu shot last year, so I’m covered.”
Fact: Unlike most vaccines, the flu vaccine is given every year. There are many different strains of flu virus and each year the vaccine is formulated to protect against the most common strains. Having the flu shot the year prior does not necessarily provide any immunity for the next year’s strains.
Myth 5: “I got the stomach flu from the flu shot.”
Fact: Although some people may experience nausea and stomach upset after receiving the vaccine, the vaccine does not cause the “stomach flu.” The phrase “stomach flu” actually refers to gastroenteritis and is in no way associated with influenza, a viral respiratory illness. The flu shot does not offer any protection against the “stomach flu.”
The moral of the story? GET YOUR FLU SHOT! Flu shots are now readily available at local pharmacies and your Methodist Physicians Clinic. Protect yourself and help protect others.