Influenza, or “the flu” is a serious disease that can lead to hospitalization and sometimes even death in vulnerable adults and children. Even healthy people can get very sick from the flu. It is a highly contagious illness, and easily spread to others. During a regular “flu season,” about 90 percent of deaths occur in people 65 years and older. A sobering thought for the senior population!
A flu vaccine (either the flu shot or the nasal-spray flu vaccine) is the best way to reduce the chances that you will get seasonal influenza and lessen the chance that you will spread it to others. The more people that get vaccinated against influenza, the less likely it will be to spread through the community.
But not everyone gets the flu shot. Why not? It is a widely misunderstood vaccine. In order to dispel some of the fears surrounding it, here is a list of myths and facts that will help you make an informed decision.
Myth: Getting a flu vaccine can cause the flu.
Fact: You can’t contract the flu from a flu vaccination. However, when your body is building its defenses, you may experience a minor reaction after getting the shot, like body aches or a mild fever for a day or two. You may coincidentally experience symptoms from other viruses that mimic flu-like symptoms.
Myth: The flu isn’t serious.
Fact: On average, 36,000 Americans die each year of the flu. Most flu-related deaths could be prevented by immunization.
Myth: You can die from a flu shot.
Fact: It’s rare to have a dangerous reaction to the flu shot. Consult with your doctor before getting a flu shot if you have a history of Guillain-Barré syndrome or if you’ve ever had a serious allergic reaction to eggs or a previous dose of flu vaccine.
Myth: You can wait and see whether an epidemic breaks out, then get a flu shot.
Fact: It takes from two weeks or longer to develop immunity. That’s why you need to get your shot before the flu season begins.
Myth: Flu shots are for old people.
Fact: All adults and children should get a flu shot, according to doctors. Even healthy adults and children can catch the flu. Find out why you should get a flu shot.
Myth: You don’t need a flu shot if you got one last year.
Fact: Immunity to the strains of influenza virus in the flu vaccine wears off within a year. And the strains of influenza which cause illness vary from season to season. If you’re not immunized against this year’s expected virus strains, you and those around you are at risk for getting the flu.
In addition to getting a flu vaccine, here are some suggestions on how to protect yourself and others:
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Cough or sneeze into your upper sleeve, not your hands.
- Wash your hands frequently with soap and water or clean them with an alcohol-based cleanser, especially after you sneeze or cough.
Free flu shots for Kaiser Permanente members, please visit your local center for more information. Contributing editor: Maria Wright M.D. Kaiser Permanente South Sacramento Medical Center.