Flu Myths Gone Viral: Debunked
The time of year is once again up us to enjoy family, holiday festivities, food, and FLU. If your in-laws or the massive amount of food you consume don’t get you down, there’s always the chance that the flu will. Here are some tips to stay healthy this year, plus clarification on some common flu myths.
MYTH #1: “Getting the flu vaccine will cause me to have the flu”
We all know someone that claims they got the flu vaccine and then immediately came down with the flu. They make it their life mission from that point on to spread the word. Allow me to debunk this myth for you. The flu injection is an inactivated form of the virus, meaning it can NOT cause infection. The symptoms that people often attribute to the start of the flu is are actually the side effects of the vaccine. The most common side effects are soreness at the injection site, minor aches, and a slightly elevated body temperature.
“What about the FluMist? Isn’t that a live vaccine?” – Correct, it the vaccine does contain live flu virus, but it’s in a weakened form and should not cause flu in those with normal immune systems. The side effects are similar to the injection, plus the occasional runny nose, nasal congestion, and cough. Regardless of which one you choose, the side effects are short lived.
Myth #2: “Eh…flu isn’t that serious”
I’m pretty sure that the more than 200,000 people that get hospitalized every year would beg to differ. Most people experience a mild case and never need to seek medical attention, but that’s not to say that flu can’t have some serious complications. Bronchitis, sinus infections, pneumonia, ear infections, and difficulty breathing are just a few examples of flu-related complications, none of which are very attractive. There are certain groups of people that are at a higher risk for flu complications. Lucky for you, I am willing to divulge that information. So, heads up to those children under 5, adults over 65, pregnant women, and anyone with chronic illnesses.
Myth #3: “I already had the flu in the past so I have immunity from getting it again”
Wish this one was true but once again a bit fat NO. Unfortunately, there are multiple strains of flu virus circulating so even if you were diagnosed with flu it is absolutely possible that you could encounter another strain. Flu viruses also change from year to year. They are clever little buggers trying to stay one step ahead of us. Getting vaccinated every year is advised. Also keep in mind that just because it’s not flu season where you live doesn’t mean it’s not flu season at the location to which you are traveling. Getting vaccinated is your best bet, as the flu would be a horrible traveling companion.
Myth #4: “It’s already January so it is too late for me to get my flu vaccine”
Flu season can extend into late spring. Therefore as long at the flu vaccine is available, it is not too late to get vaccinated. I have yet to come across anyone who can accurately predict exactly what day the last flu virus will hit. Why take that risk? Check with your primary care physician or your local state health department to find out how you can get your vaccine.
Dr. Shira Weiss is a board certified pediatrician and a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics.