Each year, the influenza vaccine is made available to the public beginning in September. This vaccine helps prevent some of the most common strains of the influenza (flu) virus, yet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates fewer than 40 percent of people receive it.
According to the CDC, between 15 and 62 million people get the flu each year, and the virus causes 200,000 hospitalizations. Perhaps because the flu is so common, misinformation about the virus and its vaccines are, too. It’s time to set the record straight.
Myth: The flu vaccine can give you the flu.
Fact: Flu vaccines are safe and cannot make you sick. Depending on which type of flu vaccine you receive, the virus is either dormant or altered, so it cannot harm you.
Myth: You do not need the flu vaccine.
Fact: If you are young and healthy, coming down with the flu may be uncomfortable but it is usually not life-threatening. However, the flu virus is quite contagious and can spread even before you develop symptoms, meaning you may pass it to people who are at risk without knowing it. High-risk populations include children younger than age 5, the elderly, pregnant women and people with compromised immune systems. Getting vaccinated protects you and others.
Myth: People with egg allergies cannot receive the flu vaccine.
Fact: Traditionally, the flu vaccine was prepared in eggs, and there was a slight chance that people with extreme allergic responses to eggs could have bad reactions to it. The FDA recently approved two new flu vaccines that do not use eggs in the virus preparation process. They are called Flublok and Flucelvax. If you have an egg allergy, talk with your primary care physician about receiving one of these new types of vaccines.
Myth: It is too late to take the vaccine.
Fact: When it comes to the flu vaccine, it’s better late than never. Cases of the flu may peak in January or February, but flu season sometimes lasts through May. It is also possible to get the flu more than once each season because multiple strands are often active at the same time.
Myth: You only need to be vaccinated against the flu once.
Fact: The flu virus is constantly changing and so are flu vaccines. The flu vaccine is reformulated each year to guard against the latest strains. That means everyone who is approved to receive the flu vaccine should do so each year to be protected from the latest types.
Myth: The flu virus can cause “stomach flu.”
Fact: While nausea and diarrhea sometimes accompany the flu, especially in children, the condition commonly referred to as the stomach flu is actually called viral gastroenteritis. The flu vaccine does not treat or prevent gastroenteritis.
Hand Hygiene and the Flu
Proper hand hygiene can help prevent the spread of germs such as the ones that cause the flu.
According to a study conducted by the University of California, Berkeley, the average person touches his or her face once every four minutes. Germs on the hand can enter the body through the mouth, eyes and nose. The moral of this story is clear—wash your hands.
To cleanse the hands thoroughly, wet them with water, apply soap and then rub them together thoroughly. That means washing the back, front, between fingers and under the nails for at least 20 seconds. Rinse well with clean, running water and dry.
If soap and water are not available, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend rubbing a hand sanitizer containing at least 60 percent alcohol on all parts of the hands until they are dry.
According to the CDC, the flu vaccine takes about two weeks to produce antibodies that protect the body from the virus.
Antibiotics cannot treat the flu virus, but medications such as Tamiflu may help shorten the duration of symptoms or reduce their severity.
Children younger than 6 months of age are too young to receive the flu vaccine and as a group are one of the most susceptible to the virus and related complications.
Talk with our Family Medicine Provider about the flu vaccine, which vaccine is appropriate for you, and when you should receive it.