Flu season is here. And along with the coughing, fevers and aches, you can expect a lot of unreliable or downright wrong information about the flu vaccine. Many people underestimate the health risks from flu. Flu and pneumonia combined consistently rank among the top 10 causes of death in the U.S., according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Thousands of Americans die from flu-related complications in a typical year. The flu season typically lasts from October to April.
Getting a shot isn’t a perfect defense against flu. Some years the strains used to make vaccines aren’t a good match for the type of flu that eventually strikes. But vaccination remains the most reliable way to reduce the risk for illness. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone 6 months of age and older gets vaccinated against flu every year, with rare exceptions, such as those with life-threatening allergies to flu vaccine ingredients or potentially those with a history of Guillain-Barré syndrome.
Following is a list of common misconceptions about the flu vaccine and the corresponding facts. If you have specific questions about vaccination, consult your doctor or other health professional.
Myth #1: You don’t need the flu vaccine this year if you got it last year. Fact: You need a new flu shot each year because the circulating strains change and immunity from the vaccine fades.
Myth #2: The flu shot is the only option available. Fact: You have several flu vaccine options, such as the shot, including egg-free versions, and a nasal spray.
Myth #3: The flu vaccine can give you the flu. Fact: The flu shot can’t give you the flu because the virus it contains has been inactivated or severely weakened.
Myth #4: The flu shot doesn’t work for me because last time I got it, I got the flu anyway. Fact: The flu shot cannot offer 100 percent protection against the flu, but it reduces your risk of getting it. Many people mistake symptoms from colds and other illnesses for the flu.
Myth #5: Pharmaceutical companies make a massive profit off flu vaccines. Fact: They’re a tiny source of profit and are made by only a handful of companies.
Myth #6: Flu vaccines don’t work for children. Fact: Flu vaccines effectively reduce the risk of flu for children ages 6 months and up.
Myth #7: Flu vaccines cause heart problems and strokes. Fact: Flu shots reduce the risk of heart attacks, strokes and other cardiovascular events.
Myth #8: The flu vaccine weakens your body’s immune response. Fact: The flu vaccine prepares your immune system to fight influenza by stimulating antibody production.
Myth #9: The flu vaccine causes nerve disorders such as Guillain-Barré syndrome. Fact: Only the 1976 swine flu vaccine was linked to Guillain-Barré syndrome, and influenza is more likely to cause the nerve disorder than the flu vaccine; the CDC says those with the Guillain-Barré should consult a doctor before getting the flu shot.
Myth #10: People don’t die from the flu unless they have another underlying condition already. Fact: Otherwise healthy people do die from the flu. The elderly and young children are most vulnerable.
Myth #11: People with egg allergies can’t get vaccinated against flu. Fact: People with egg allergies can get a flu shot but should consult their doctor or allergist on options if their allergy is severe.
Myth #12: I can protect myself from the flu by eating right and washing my hands regularly. Fact: A good diet and good hygiene are healthful habits that reduce the risk of illness but cannot prevent the flu on their own.
Myth #13: If I do get the flu, I’ll just stay home so I’m not infecting others. Fact: You can transmit the flu without showing symptoms.
Myth #14: The “stomach flu” is the flu. Fact: The stomach flu refers to a variety of gastrointestinal illnesses unrelated to influenza.
Myth #15: If you haven’t gotten a flu shot by November, there’s no point in getting one. Fact: Getting the flu shot any time during flu season will reduce your risk of getting the flu.