5 Myths About the Flu

Every year in the U.S. about 200,000 people are hospitalized and up to 36,000 die because of complications from the seasonal flu, a highly contagious respiratory illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Flu season typically begins in the fall, peaks during mid-winter (January or February) and hangs around until late spring.

Unfortunately, myths about the flu and flu vaccines prompt many people to decide against getting vaccinated, says Elise McCormack-Granja, M.D., a primary care doctor affiliated with the Baptist Health Medical Group.

Here are 5 myths and facts:

Myth #1: Healthy people can skip the flu vaccine.

Even if you are otherwise healthy, the flu can lead to hospitalization or death, medical experts say. Consider the numbers:  5 percent to 20 percent of the U.S. population catches the flu, according to health officials.

“Everyone over the age of 6 months should get a flu vaccine. Doing so protects you and those around you,” Dr. McCormack-Granja says. “You don’t want to bring the flu into the house and expose those who are at greatest risk to the virus.”

Exceptions: Babies under 6 months should not be vaccinated, and you should not get a flu shot if you:

  • Are severely allergic to eggs or gelatin.
  • Have ever suffered from Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS), a rare auto-immune disorder.
  • Have a high fever.  (Get vaccinated when the fever ends.)
  • Myth #2: Flu shots make you sick.

    After getting a flu shot, some people experience mild reactions: a low-grade fever, achiness and redness or soreness at the injection site. But those side effects typically last for less than a day.

    “Unfortunately, some people are more terrified of the flu vaccination than the flu itself,” Dr. McCormack says. “But any reaction to flu vaccination is much less than the illness from the flu itself.”

    Myth #3 Nasal spray flu vaccines give you the flu.

    You cannot get the flu from the nasal spray, the CDC reports. “The viruses contained in the nasal spray flu vaccine are attenuated (weakened), which means they cannot cause flu illness.” Common side effects from the nasal spray vaccine are usually mild and include a cough, nasal congestion or a runny nose. 

    Note: New for the upcoming 2014-2015 flu season, the CDC recommends the nasal spray vaccine for healthy children, ages 2-8 years, when possible. “If the nasal spray vaccine is not immediately available and the flu shot is, vaccination should not be delayed and a flu shot should be given,” the CDC says.

    (To learn more about the new CDC recommendation, visit Nasal Spray Flu Vaccine in Children 2 Years through 8 Years Old.)

    Myth #4: The flu is just a bad cold.

    Complications include:

  • Dehydration.
  • Sinus or ear infections.
  • Bacterial pneumonia.
  • Serious complications from the flu carry a greater risk for young children, pregnant women, the elderly and those who have chronic health conditions, such as asthma, diabetes or heart disease. The flu can worsen or aggravate pre-existing conditions. Dr. McCormack-Granja says.

    Because the flu is highly contagious, otherwise healthy family members should get vaccinated to avoid exposing vulnerable relatives to the illness.

    Myth #5 Annual flu vaccinations aren’t important.

    For those 6 months and older, the CDC recommends an annual flu vaccination.  The immunity protection delivered by the vaccination declines as time goes on and annual protection is needed, Dr. McCormack-Granja.

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