Busting common flu myths
Every fall, debates rage over flu vaccinations and whether or not they are an effective way to protect oneself from the flu. And while most of us, at one time, received sound medical advice from our family physicians, the age of the Internet has given rise to both an overload of information and the potential for myths to circulate.
“The number of myths related to the flu and the flu vaccine is quite astounding,” says Dr. Reena Lovinsky, an infectious disease specialist at The Scarborough Hospital. “Unfortunately, misinformation and ignorance are significant reasons why more than 50,000 Canadians will be unnecessarily hospitalized this year due to influenza complications, and why between 2,000 and 5,000 could die.”
To help you understand the truth about the flu and vaccine, Dr. Lovinsky busts the following common myths:
Myth 1: The flu is really just a bad cold
We all get colds, and we know they can cause sore throats, runny noses or congestion that lasts a few days. The flu virus can have a much more significant impact, infecting the lungs, causing joint pain, and in the most serious cases, leading to pneumonia or respiratory failure.
Myth 2: I got the flu shot last year, so I should still be protected
Wrong! The flu vaccine provides protection against the most prevalent strains of the virus expected to be circulating this season, and typically changes each year. Also, a person’s immunity to the flu declines over time and requires annual vaccination to maintain protection. Age and health can be factors as well. As a rule, the elderly and those with chronic health conditions that weaken the body’s immune system are most at risk from the flu, and are therefore most in need of annual vaccinations. But everyone, regardless of age or health, decreases their likelihood of developing serious flu complications by getting a flu shot each year.
Myth 3: I’ve never had the flu shot, and I never get sick
Anyone can get the flu, and just because you’ve never had it before does not mean you are immune. Even healthy individuals can become seriously ill, often for a week or more. Only a flu vaccination can offer true protection from serious flu complications.
Myth 4: The flu shot can actually give me the flu
This is probably the most common flu myth out there, and it is completely false. The flu vaccine does not contain live flu virus, and therefore cannot give you the flu. Given the time of year, many people come down with common colds, and mistake it for the flu. Sometimes people can get a fever after the flu vaccine. This is not the flu, but a sign that your body is mounting antibodies to protect you against the flu in the future.
Myth 5: Vaccinations don’t really offer protection from the flu
Data shows that the flu shot is close to 90 per cent effective at preventing the flu in healthy adults and children, when the vaccine is a good match to the circulating flu types.
Myth 6: Pregnant women should avoid the flu shot
The flu vaccine is safe, and is recommended during pregnancy and while breast-feeding as pregnant women and newborns are at high risk for complications from influenza. During pregnancy, their immune systems are suppressed, and pregnant women—especially those in their second and third trimesters—are at a higher risk for developing complications such as pneumonia.
Myth 7: The flu vaccine has bad side effects
Other than occasional reports of mild soreness or redness at the injection site, there are typically no negative side effects from the flu vaccination. However, some people with known allergies should avoid the flu shot altogether. If you have had a bad allergic reaction to a previous dose of the vaccine, or if you have an egg allergy that is manifested by hives, swelling of the mouth and throat, difficulty breathing, hypotension or shock, the vaccination should be avoided.
Additional information about the flu, along with flu-related resources, are available on our website at www.tsh.to