If you use your imagination really hard, you can picture fall in Greenville, TX. We all know that warm weather can hang on well into October around here, but it’s nice to think about crispy air, cozy sweaters, and warm drinks. Even if we have to wait another month (or two!) for fall to materialize, one feature of fall doesn’t always wait for the weather to cool off. The flu.
The flu season begins in October and peaks in December. Which means it’s time to get a flu shot. It also means flu shot myths will start circulating again.
There are certain stories that seem to gain traction and make the rounds year after year, even when they aren’t based in fact. Today we’d like to address a few of them, but if you have any concerns about the flu shot and its effectiveness or safety, we invite you to discuss it with your physician. This is an important part of preventive health both for individuals and for the community as a whole. We want to address all of your concerns about it honestly and completely. But for now, here are the common flu shot myths you are likely to hear in the barber chair or grocery line.
Myth #1: You can get the flu from the flu shot.
The flu vaccine used in the flu shot is made from an inactivated virus, which means the virus has been killed. The vaccine is built from little bits of the virus – not the entire thing. Your immune system learns to recognize those little bits. But those bits are unable to cause disease or reproduce. They simply can’t make you sick. But, when your immune system sees those bits again later – after you’ve been exposed to the flu while waiting at the post office, for example – it recognizes them and attacks them.
Some people do feel bad a day or two after the shot. That’s your immune system at work. Most commonly it is limited to redness or soreness at the site of the shot, but some people do get a headache, body aches, or even a fever. This is unusual, but it can happen. But it isn’t the flu. It doesn’t carry the risk for complications that usually come with the flu such as pneumonia. You can’t spread it to other people.
It is possible, but rare, to have an allergic reaction to the flu shot. You should discuss what signs to look for with your doctor when you receive the shot.
Remember that hundreds of millions of Americans have received the flu shot over the years. It has proven to be incredibly safe in real life, not just the lab.
Myth #2: The flu shot doesn’t even work.
It is true that the effectiveness of the flu vaccine varies from year to year. This is because the strains that cause problems change from year to year. Global health organizations monitor the circulating strains and make a prediction about which will cause disease in the next flu season. They have to make this prediction far enough in advance to give manufacturers enough time to make the vaccines. This means they aren’t always 100 percent correct. In addition, the flu virus mutates fairly often, so sometimes they get the strains right but they still mutate, making the vaccine less effective.
However, the flu vaccine is 50 to 60 percent effective in those who receive it. That’s not perfect and scientists are working to improve it. But in the U.S. alone, that means millions of cases of flu are prevented each year with the vaccine.
In addition, recent research has shown that those who get the flu in spite of having been vaccinated against it don’t get as sick. Their illness doesn’t last as long, their symptoms aren’t as severe, their complications are fewer, and they are admitted to the hospital less frequently. Seems worth it.
Myth #3: The flu isn’t all that serious.
Many people think the flu is just a glorified cold. But in reality it’s a serious public health problem. The symptoms can be debilitating, keeping those infected in bed for three or four days and sometimes quite a bit longer. Many individuals develop complications such as pneumonia and require hospitalization. Each year in the U.S, anywhere from 3,000 to 49,000 people die from the flu depending on the severity of disease caused by circulating strains.
Even young healthy people need to be concerned. The flu is highly contagious. A healthy person who is just starting to fall ill might spread the illness to infants, the elderly, or those with compromised immune systems from chemotherapy before they even know they have the flu.
And if you aren’t worried about getting sick, at least consider the flu’s effect on your wallet.
Here at Hunt Regional Medical Partners, we work hard to help you stay healthy. We believe the flu shot is an important part of that process. If you would like to schedule your flu shot, or if you have more questions about the vaccine, please make an appointment with us. We want to answer your questions and help you stay healthy so you can enjoy the fall. It will get here. Eventually.
Photo credit: Fly_dragonfly via Adobe Stock.