Influenza, also known as “the flu”, is a contagious respiratory illness. It is caused by influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat and lungs. Flu symptoms can include fever, cough, body ache, headache, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, chills, tiredness and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea. In some cases, people with flu do not have a fever.
Every year in the United States, there is an outbreak of flu viruses and millions become infected by it. Thousands even die due to lack of timely/proper medical care and medication. It is observed that people tend to neglect the fatality of influenza. An important cause of this negligence is the prevalent misconceptions about the flu and its vaccination.
Here we will discuss some of the misconceptions about influenza and deconstruct them:
# 1: Do I really need a flu vaccine every year?
Each season, different strains of the flu circulate. Previous year's flu shot won’t protect you from this year's flu strains. Depending upon the specific strains of the flu that are expected to spread, each year, the flu shot is different.
As per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) recommendations, everyone aged above 6 months, should get yearly flu vaccines. It is proven that a person’s immune protection from Flu shots depletes over time. So to get the best protection against the flu, an annual vaccination is mandatory.
#2: When to get a Flu shot?
It takes about two weeks after vaccination for the body's immune response to fully respond and for you to be protected. So make plans accordingly to get vaccinated. CDC recommends that people get a flu vaccine by the end of October. However, getting vaccinated later can still be beneficial.
# 3: The flu vaccine can cause miscarriage.
In fact, the flu vaccine reduces the risk of miscarriage, and a pregnant woman is advised to include the flu shot in her prenatal care. The flu vaccine is safe and is important for pregnant mothers, as it may provide their new-born babies with a bit of extra protection against acute respiratory infections.
# 4: Flu shots can cause Alzheimer’s disease.
This is a common misconception. There is no connection between the flu shots and Alzheimer’s disease. Even the Alzheimer’s Association website, has refuted this misconception. In fact, the risk for developing Alzheimer’s is reduced by 50% by getting the high-dose flu vaccine. As a word of caution, live vaccine and intra-dermal flu vaccine are not recommended for seniors aged 65 and above.
# 5: I never get the flu, so I don’t need to be vaccinated.
You are fortunate if you have not been infected by the flu virus. Let us remind ourselves that many people have never experienced a catastrophic event, yet they still carry a variety of insurance types to protect against the unknown.
# 6: Flu shots don’t work.
No vaccine is 100% effective, and the flu vaccine is no exception. Even though flu shots cannot eliminate the risk of getting the flu entirely, the flu shot reduces the risk of flu virus infection. The greater the number of people who are immunized against the flu, the more effective it is for the immunity of our community.
# 7: Flu shots make you sick or give you the flu.
This is one of the most blatant misconceptions about flu vaccines. Some people might have caught the flu virus before getting a flu shot and symptoms may appear gradually. But they didn’t get the flu from the vaccine. A flu shot requires around two weeks to start the protection and it takes 2-5 days to incubate a flu virus. A person who gets the flu within a week’s time of getting the vaccine was already infected when they got the vaccine.
# 8: Is the flu vaccine safe?
Flu vaccines have a good safety record. They are produced using strict safety and production measures. Over past 50 years, millions of people have safely received flu vaccines. Different types of flu vaccines are available for different age groups. Individuals are advised to get the appropriate vaccine for their age.
#9: Flu shots cause cardiovascular disorders.
This is another blatant misconception about flu shots and it needs to be exposed. In fact, flu shots reduce the risk of stroke and heart attacks. There is no evidence to prove that flu shots cause vascular diseases. Various studies show that flu shots help in reducing the risk of stroke, heart attacks and other cardiovascular disorders.
#10: Can antibiotics cure my flu?
It is proven that antibiotics help in fighting bacteria. They are weak in fighting influenza viruses. Attempting to use antibiotics to cure the flu may cause unnecessary side effects. Continuous consumption of antibiotics may make your body resistant to antibiotics in the long run.
#11: Flu shots cause nerve disorders such as Guillain-Barré Syndrome.
Influenza may cause Guillain-Barré syndrome (not the flu shot). Guillain-Barré Syndrome (GBS) is an autoimmune disorder. With GBS, the immune system mistakenly attacks a person’s own tissue, which may cause temporary paralysis and muscle weakness. This syndrome affects approximately one person out of every 100,000 persons. Even though the causes are not well understood, the GBS disorder has been erroneously linked to flu viruses.