Debunking some common flu myths

As there are all kinds of myths surrounding the influenza vaccination, commonly known as the flu shot, we share some information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) below.

MYTH: “The flu shot is only for people who get sick easily.”
TRUTH: The annual flu vaccine is the best way to prevent yourself from getting sick and from spreading the flu to others.

Not only can going unvaccinated put you at risk for developing a serious illness that knocks you out of work or school for weeks (or even lands you in the hospital), but going unvaccinated also puts other people at risk.

Some people cannot get the flu shot. That includes babies under 6 months old and people with a documented severe allergy to an ingredient in the flu vaccine. When you don’t get the vaccine, you can spread the virus to these vulnerable people or put other people, like the elderly and the immunosuppressed, at higher risk for getting the flu and developing complications.

The more people get vaccinated, the less flu can spread among a community. Recent CDC studies estimate that the vaccine can reduce the risk of the flu in the overall population by 40–60%.

MYTH: “Flu is not that serious; if you get it, you can enjoy a few days in bed.”
TRUTH: The flu shot saves lives and keeps people out of the hospital — because the flu can be deadly.

The CDC estimates that around five million people worldwide catch flu each year, resulting in almost 650 000 deaths related to flu-related complications.

Some people are at higher risk for developing complications from the flu, such as the elderly, pregnant women, children, and people with chronic conditions like asthma and diabetes. But it’s not only these groups that are susceptible — the flu can kill healthy adults, too.

MYTH: “A flu shot can give you the flu, because they inject you with the flu virus.”
TRUTH: You will NOT get the flu from a flu shot, but you may feel crummy or feverish after the shot, which is a sign of your immune system revving up to make antibodies.

The shot gives you a killed version of the flu so your immune system can make antibodies that attack the actual virus.

MYTH: “Pregnant women should not get a flu shot.”
TRUTH: It is safe for pregnant women to get the flu vaccine, and it can also protect the baby from getting the flu after birth.

The CDC recommends that pregnant women get the flu shot during any trimester since they are more susceptible to developing a severe illness from the flu than women who aren’t pregnant.

Additionally, the flu shot can provide extra protection for the newborn baby. During pregnancy, mothers pass the antibodies to the baby, and that can protect them during the first few months after birth. Consult your doctor first to decide which vaccine is best for you, depending on your individual health and allergies.

MYTH: “If you have already been immunised against flu, you don’t need a shot again.”
TRUTH: We need a new flu shot every year because the flu shot doesn’t give us lasting immunity, and the virus mutates frequently.

Unlike vaccines for other illnesses such as mumps or whooping cough, the vaccine for seasonal influenza doesn’t provide you with immunity for years. That’s why it’s called the “seasonal” influenza vaccine. Another reason we need a new vaccine each year is because the flu is constantly mutating and changing, so there are different prevailing strains each year.

MYTH: “The flu shot doesn’t work, because you still get the flu even after having a flu shot.”
TRUTH: There are typically two reasons why you would get the flu even after you get the vaccine. The first is that the prevailing strains don’t exactly match the ones in the vaccine, and the second is that you were exposed to the virus right before you got the shot.

According to the CDC, the incubation period for the flu can last one to four days, so you might not have any symptoms at all for a solid week after being infected. In this case, the shot won’t really help or lessen the severity of the flu, but it can still provide protection against other strains that could pop up later on.

It takes anywhere from two weeks to a month for your immune system to kick in and make antibodies so you’re protected from the flu. That means you’re still susceptible to getting the flu immediately after getting the shot if you’re around people who have it. This is also why it’s crucial to get vaccinated early, so that you’re protected before the height of flu season.

MYTH: “The flu shot has dangerous side effects and should therefore be avoided.”
TRUTH: Compared to the known benefits of the flu vaccine, serious side effects are rare enough that they shouldn’t deter any healthy person from getting the flu shot.

There are some serious reactions to the flu shot, but these are very rare. Mostly any side effects are very mild, such as localised redness at the injection site, headache, nausea, muscle aches, and fever.

If you are unsure, talk to your doctor – you may not be able to get the flu vaccine or need to get it under medical supervision. If you’ve had Guillain-Barré syndrome, also talk to your doctor before getting a shot.