Contributor: Dalia Eid
If there’s one thing we know about flu season, it’s that it’s always unpredictable. But when it comes to prevention, education is key, especially given some of the misinformation or common myths that seem to pop up this time of year as flu activity typically starts to rise.
During the 2015-2016 flu season, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that 310,000 people in the U.S. were hospitalized for flu-related illness.
Everyone is familiar with the telltale symptoms of the flu – the fever, headache, nausea and fatigue. But that’s just the beginning. Some of the more powerful influenza strains can wreak havoc on those with chronic medical conditions, complicating illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes or asthma.
In short, getting the flu is more than an inconvenience. Why, then, isn’t everyone getting that annual flu shot?
A recent survey by CityMD indicates that over half of millennials didn’t plan to get a vaccine during last year’s flu season, and the CDC reported that 45.6% of the overall population got their flu shots during the 2015-2016 season, leaving room for improvement in vaccination rates.
The last couple of flu seasons have been pretty mild, but some of the misinformation related to flu can also be a contributor to consumer behavior. I’ll take this opportunity to debunk some of the most common misconceptions about the flu vaccine.
MYTH: You can get sick from the flu shot
FACT: The flu vaccine isn’t manufactured with a live virus, so it cannot cause the flu. Sometimes patients may be exposed to the flu or other virus before receiving the vaccine, which can take up to two weeks to become fully effective. When someone gets sick, they mistakenly believe the vaccine was the cause. But that’s not the case. The most common side effects from the influenza vaccine are soreness, redness, or swelling at the site of the injection and, in some cases, a low-grade fever, headache or muscle ache.
MYTH: Flu shots aren’t always effective
FACT: Simply put, a flu shot is the best protection you can get. The vaccine stimulates the body’s immune system to make antibodies, which can recognize and attack that specific strain of virus inside the body. The vaccine greatly reduces the chances of contracting the virus and, if contracted, may make the symptoms milder. It’s important to note that most flu vaccinations protect against strains that are respiratory in nature, not gastrointestinal, so if you still get the “stomach bug,” it doesn’t necessarily mean your vaccine was ineffective. Getting vaccinated may also help protect people around you who have a greater risk of serious illness, such as elderly people, patients with chronic conditions, pregnant women and young children.
MYTH: There’s no point in getting a flu shot if it’s later in the flu season
FACT: Getting the flu shot, even later in the season, can still be beneficial. Oftentimes, there is a delay in the onset of the virus in different parts of the country. While some markets are already experiencing elevated flu activity, activity in Atlanta is still moderate, so there’s still time to get vaccinated. In many cases, new virus strains can emerge throughout the season, so it’s important to get vaccinated annually. Also, in the U.S., the flu most often peaks in January and February.
MYTH: Everyone receives the same type of flu shot
FACT: Each year, the seasonal influenza vaccine includes the strains that researchers found will be most prevalent throughout the season. This year, there is again an option fora Trivalent (3-strain) vaccine, which protects from the three most common flu strains, or the Quadrivalent (4-strain) vaccine, which includes one additional strain. There are also immune-boosting influenza vaccines for those aged 65 and above, and preservative-free versions for pregnant women or those who are allergic to mercury.
MYTH: Flu shots are only for really sick people
FACT: Influenza certainly does not discriminate. It can cause serious complications or illness for those with chronic conditions, and healthy individuals are just as likely to catch the flu virus. Some people never show any signs of flu symptoms and may act as carriers of the virus, infecting their loved ones. In short, prevention is always better than cure; the best defense against the flu is to get an annual flu shot.
The good news is that for Atlantans who have not yet received their vaccination, it’s not too late. If last year’s flu activity is any indication, flu levels won’t peak until after the new year. Since the vaccination can take up to two weeks to build up full immunity, now is prime time for prevention with the holidays approaching.
Armed with this knowledge, I encourage you to get vaccinated and to talk about the benefits of vaccinations with your friends and loved ones. The flu is a dangerous virus. Let’s each do our part to take control of it, one vaccine at a time.
Dalia Eid is Pharmacy Manager at Walgreens store 7068, located in Kennesaw, Ga. A Doctor of Pharmacy graduate from Mercer University (class of 2012), Dalia has been working with Walgreens since 2004. She is CPR-certified, and certified in giving immunizations.