Debunking 4 Common Myths About the Flu

Debunking 4 Common Myths About the Flu

Flu myths are flying all over the place again, so we wanted to take a fresh look at the facts about the flu and the flu shot. That way you can sort reliable data from the emotional—and misinformed—anti-vaxer passions. And we get those passions. We’re all searching for answers to many health problems that increasingly afflict our children, such as autism spectrum disorders, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder and developmental disorders. But vaccines are not the cause. As Scott Gottlieb, the nominee for head of the Food and Drug Administration, said during his Senate confirmation hearings, there’s “no causal link between vaccination and autism.” So here are the flu and flu vaccine myths and facts.

Myth #1: Commonly, people call gastrointestinal upsets the flu, when the fact is influenza is respiratory; there’s no throwing up or diarrhea involved. If that’s what’s afflicting you, it may be a different viral or bacterial infection.

Myth #2: Flu only happens in the winter. Nope. Although the frequency of infections increases in October and the season peaks between December and March, the fact is it often extends into May—and you can get the flu 12 months a year.

Myth #3: You can get the flu from the flu vaccine. Not possible. The fact is you can have a reaction—although it is rare—that triggers fatigue, fever and achiness, but that’s not the flu; it’s an immune system reaction. For almost everyone, the benefit of vaccine protection from serious events compared to the risk of a serious negative reaction is 40,000 to 1.

Also, remember, the fact is it takes two to three weeks for the immune protection from the shot to kick in. In the meantime you can get the flu—but it’s not from the vaccine!

Myth #4: The flu vaccine often misses most flu strains, so there’s no point in getting vaccinated. Not true. The fact is this year’s flu vaccine is pretty much on target: Nationally, the vast majority of H1N1 (100 percent), H3N2 (95 percent) and B lineage viruses (90.6 percent for Victoria lineage, 100 percent for Yamagata lineage) are similar to the vaccine’s virus components. And the U.S. Flu Vaccine Effectiveness Network’s interim estimates show the vaccine is 43 percent effective against the predominant influenza A (H3N2) viruses and 73 percent effective against influenza B viruses. Overall effectiveness averages include people for whom vaccines have reduced effectiveness, such as the elderly and those with some chronic illnesses.

Plus: If you’ve had the influenza vaccine and come down with the flu, the severity of the illness is usually significantly reduced.

More facts
A study conducted by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and published in the journal Pediatrics shows the flu vaccine saves children’s lives! Looking at data from the flu seasons between 2010 and 2014, researchers found getting flu shots slashed a child’s risk of flu-associated death by 51 percent, if the child also had an underlying high-risk medical condition, and by 65 percent, if the child were healthy. This reinforces the CDC and American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation that all kids six months and older get an annual flu vaccine. We also know it saves the lives of people with diabetes, the elderly—and you.

Stepping into the future
If you do have respiratory symptoms, you really want to know if they’re caused by an influenza virus or something else. Fortunately, a breakthrough technology may provide quick answers. According to an article published in The Lancet, researchers report they’ve developed a mouth swab your doc can use to determine if you have the flu—or another respiratory illness—within the hour, instead of days for a lab-based test. You can then avoid taking unnecessary antibiotics, start an anti-viral med if recommended, and know the best self-care options right away.

So, offer your children, elderly relatives and yourself the invaluable protection the flu shot can provide.

Medically reviewed in February 2020.

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