As Flu Season Continues, Experts Say ‘Get Your Shot’
Florida is seeing low levels of influenza and influenza-like activity, according to the state’s Department of Health. The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting healthcare seeking behavior, however, which may be impacting current trends being reported across the state. Levels remain below those of previous seasons.
Floridians who have not yet received a flu shot are still urged to do so, as an annual vaccination is your best defense against protecting you and your loved ones from influenza and its associated complications.
"I encourage everyone to get a flu shot, particularly children and the elderly," says Dr. Bernadette Antonyrajah, a pediatrician with Orlando Health Physician Associates. "Unfortunately, during my career, I have seen healthy children die unnecessarily due to complications of influenza. Vaccinating your loved ones for the flu can protect them."
Antiviral treatment should be initiated as soon as possible for those confirmed or suspected to have influenza who are at higher risk for complications, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends. Treatment should be administered within 48 hours of illness onset. Contact your healthcare provider for more information.
Let’s separate the facts from fiction about this potentially lifesaving vaccine.
Myth 1: You Can Contract the Flu from the Flu Shot
Here’s the truth: The flu vaccine has not been shown to transmit the flu. After receiving the flu vaccine, you may experience flu-like symptoms such as fever or muscle aches. Typically, these will last a day or two. This is not a sign of a flu infection, which causes much more severe symptoms. This is the body’s normal response to the vaccine and is not unexpected.
Because it takes your body about two weeks to build up an immunity after the shot, you can still develop the flu during that window. This leads some to believe they got the flu from the vaccine.
Symptoms of an actual infection with influenza virus include a sudden onset of a high fever, chills, nasal congestion, headache, fatigue, muscle aches and occasionally nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. These symptoms usually last about a week, but they can last several weeks.
Myth 2: The Flu Shot Can Cause Autism
Numerous studies evaluate whether vaccines — including the influenza vaccine and its components — can cause autism. The answer? It doesn’t. Repeated studies have demonstrated the vaccine’s safety.
Some forms of the influenza vaccine have a small amount of thimerosal, a preservative containing trace amounts of mercury. While some claim thimerosal may potentially cause autism, many studies have proven otherwise. This preservative has been removed from many vaccines as a result of these claims although it has been found to be safe.
Myth 3: The Flu Shot Doesn’t Work
Each year, the influenza vaccine is targeted at the most commonly seen strains of influenza circulating throughout the world. The efficacy of the vaccine varies each year depending on how closely the vaccine matches these strains. Some years, the flu shot may be 80 percent effective in preventing flu infections. Other years, it may be less effective.
Even if someone receives the flu shot and still becomes infected with influenza, the vaccine usually decreases the severity and duration of their illness. The vaccine is still effective in minimizing complications even if you get the flu after being vaccinated. The chances of becoming ill enough to require hospitalization or life support — as well as the chance of death from influenza infection and complications — are significantly lower in individuals who have been vaccinated.
Myth 4: The Flu Shot Is a Big Conspiracy
It’s important to remember that the flu vaccine is not just recommended by healthcare providers, but also widely used by their families. While large pharmaceutical corporations benefit from the sale of their products, physicians stand little to gain personally from recommending flu vaccination.
The majority of physicians get a flu shot each year. This would not be the case if there was no clinical benefit.
Myth 5: Healthy People Don’t Need the Flu Shot
Perfectly healthy individuals suffer permanent organ damage and even die from influenza infection and its complications every year. We’ve had the unfortunate responsibility of caring for children, teenagers and young adults with normal immune systems who required life support and even died from influenza infection.
Those with common chronic conditions — asthma, heart disease, COPD — as well as the very young and elderly are at an even higher risk. The takeaway? Even the strongest and most robust should receive a flu shot.
Myth 6: You Don’t Need to Get a Flu Shot Every Year
The circulating strains of flu vary each year. Immunity to influenza strains from one year will not necessarily protect you the next, so it’s recommended that most people receive the flu vaccine annually. This way you receive the vaccine specifically formulated for each flu season.
Even when the strains circulating are similar to the previous year, immunity in many individuals wanes over time, which means a vaccine from one year may no longer offer protection the following season.
Myth 7: Pregnant Women Shouldn’t Get a Flu Shot
The flu vaccine is both safe and recommended in pregnant women. As pregnancy alters a woman’s immune system, women have a higher likelihood of serious influenza complications during pregnancy. If a woman is ill with the flu near the time of delivery, there is a risk of her newborn contracting the flu. The infant might actually need to be separated from the mother (and other household members) until everyone has been adequately treated. Pregnant women and newborns are some of those at highest risk of being hospitalized or suffering permanent complications, including organ damage or death, as a result of influenza infection.
Infants are not typically eligible for the influenza vaccination until they reach six months of age. It’s especially important for parents, household members and other close contacts to be vaccinated to protect infants from serious flu-related complications.
Myth 8: The Flu Is Just a Bad Cold
In some cases, clinical flu infection may present as a bad cold. Some may not even realize they are infected. The typical course of influenza infection is much more severe than a common cold, however, with higher complications. Some include meningitis (an infection of the fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord), secondary bacterial pneumonia (which may lead to respiratory difficulty or failure), Guillain-Barré syndrome (a serious neurological condition) and death.
Myth 9: Flu Vaccines Contain Harmful Ingredients
Vaccines are some of the most-studied substances there are. Compared with many foods and supplements, we have much more information about the safety of vaccines and their components. The influenza vaccine has been studied repeatedly and is carefully produced with ingredients shown to be both safe and effective.
Myth 10: Flu Vaccine Side Effects Are Worse than the Flu Itself
While flu vaccine side effects can be uncomfortable, they are typically mild and short-lived (if they occur). It’s important to understand that the flu vaccine is intended to decrease the chance of contracting the flu and, more importantly, decrease the chances of serious and life-threatening complications.
Talk to your doctor today about how you can receive the flu vaccine.
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