Flu season is upon us again and it won’t end till the end of March. Influenza is a terrible virus that can cause mild to severe illness and even death. Symptoms of the flu include fever, chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, fatigue, vomiting and diarrhea and an overall feeling of being run over by a bus over and over again.
In the past 12 years as a practicing physician, I have taken care of many patients with the flu and thankfully the complications have only led to a few hospitalizations, but all had full recoveries. I offer the flu vaccines to all my patients, but have heard many excuses from parents as to why they don’t want to have their children to get it. When you are considering whether or not to get the vaccine, you should have all the facts up front. Here are ten myths debunked:
MYTH 1: Everytime I get the flu vaccine I get the flu.
It’s impossible to get the flu from the killed or even the live virus vaccine. Someone might get a fever or have a mild malaise from it but cannot get the flu from the vaccine. There is a possibility that within the first week of receiving the vaccine to catch the flu since it could take up to two weeks for antibodies to develop after getting vaccinated. Similarly for any other vaccine, nobody will get Hepatitis B from the Hepatitis B vaccine. It’s not different for the flu vaccine.
MYTH 2: Any year I’ve received the flu vaccine I catch every single cold during the season.
The flu vaccine protects you from the influenza virus, not every cold during the winter. It also will NOT decrease your immune system to catch every cold. If you keep catching colds, it means you’re either not protecting yourself with proper hygiene (washing your hands, not touching your face with dirty hands) or you come in contact with a lot of sick people.
MYTH 3: The flu virus is just another cold.
Although the flu virus is a cold, it really isn’t just another cold. The influenza virus causes millions of people to get ill every year, hundreds of thousands to get hospitalized and tens of thousands to die from flu related causes around the world.
MYTH 4: Receiving the flu vaccine will protect you 100% from catching the flu.
Although the flu vaccine will give you the best chances not to catch the flu during the season, it will not fully protect you. It will give you antibodies to lessen the severity of the flu in case you catch it and I have seen, season after season, the kids that are vaccinated for the flu, will be ill for a very short time. Make sure you practice these universal precautions in order to stay healthy.
MYTH 5: I don’t need to get the flu vaccine every year.
Getting the flu vaccine every year will help prevent catching the flu. The antibodies from the previous years vaccine do wear off and having the flu vaccine every year, will once again give you the best chances not to catch the flu virus.
MYTH 6: I read online, people became paralyzed after receiving the flu vaccine.
The flu vaccine has a rare side-effect of Guillan Barre Syndrome (GBS) — a rare disorder, 1-in-a-million, in which a person’s nerve cells are damaged, causing muscle weakness. Most people will fully recover. Although GBS is in the vaccines rare side effects risk, catching the wild virus of the flu can also cause GBS in a higher proportion, making it riskier if you don’t have the flu shot.
MYTH 7: I’m young and healthy, I don’t need the flu vaccine.
Most healthy adults will get through the flu illness without consequences, but there’s a small percentage of healthy adults that can get terribly ill or even die. Kids, especially under 5 years old are considered high risk and it is very important to get their flu vaccine yearly.
MYTH 8: The vaccine is made by taking last years circulating viruses so it won’t help me this year.
The vaccine is prepared yearly based on studies conducted and multiple meetings by scientists to make an educated prediction for the current years flu viruses.
MYTH 9: I’m pregnant and I can’t get the flu vaccine.
Fortunately enough you can get the vaccine if you are pregnant. The CDC has conducted large studies to show vaccine safety throughout pregnancy as well as studies showing no higher risk of miscarriage after the flu vaccine. The caveat, pregnant women can only get the killed virus vaccine. Pregnant women are at high risk of catching the flu, hence receiving the vaccine is very important for themselves and their fetus.
MYTH 10: My child has an egg allergy and cannot receive the flu vaccine.
For the last couple of years, the recommendation of holding off the flu vaccine in egg allergic patients has been lifted and now everyone can receive the flu vaccine, even if they have an egg allergy. For parents that are nervous about this new recommendation, I observe them in the office for about 1 hour for any allergic reactions.