Six myths about influenza.

child-with-flu-in-winterWe’ve all heard the myths surrounding influenza. Misconceptions are almost as hard to overcome as the virus itself. These myths are even common among those of us who should know better. While the myths are plentiful, we’ll address a few of the most common.

Collected from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention and other flu experts around the country, we’ll attempt to separate fact and fiction for you.

Flu Myth #1: Influenza is harmless.

Not quite. We’ve heard a lot of media hype surround swine flu, but you should also remember that seasonal flu can be a serious issue as well. Many assume the flu is simply a very bad cold. But it can be much worse.

First of all, you will feel awful.  Not only congestion and cough but also severe body aches and fever.

The flu can have more serious implications than just a few miserable days and some time off work. Most of you, if you contract the flu, will recover. However, the Harvard Medical Review and CDC estimate that the seasonal flu puts nearly 200,000 people in the hospital every year and actually kills an estimated 36,000 people in the U.S. every year. That number is very close to the number of deaths from breast cancer each year.

Complications associated with the flu include: bacterial pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections, dehydration, and worsening of chronic medical conditions, such as congestive heart failure, asthma, or diabetes. Complications can be worse in children under age 5, asthmatics, diabetics, and children with history of respiratory illnesses, such as RSV.

Best of all, since flu shots are covered by most insurance plans, there’s no reason to skip your vaccination.

Flu Myth #2: You can get the flu from the vaccine.

This myth drives physicians crazy––because there is absolutely no evidence to support this myth.

Flu vaccines are created from the dead influenza virus. The nasal vaccine, FluMist, utilizes a type of live flu virus but it’s been specially engineered to weaken the strain, making it impossible to gestate into the flu.

However, even though it’s scientifically impossible to catch the flu from a vaccine, this myth persists. Some experts suggest this persistence is due to two reasons.

  • The side effects of a flu vaccine can include a sore arm or other aches and a low-grade fever. Combined, these side effects can seem like a lighter version of the flu.
  • The fact that flu season coincides with the time of year when other cold and respiratory bugs are striking.

Flu Myth #3: You don’t need a flu shot if you’re young and healthy.

Certainly, if you’re in good health, you can recover faster than the elderly, but why suffer through it if it’s not necessary. In addition, consider those around you. Healthy adults often forget they can be infected with the virus without showing symptoms, then spreading it to their family members, especially small children or older parents. Not to mention, children under 6 months cannot get the flu vaccine. According to the CDC, children under the age of two have the highest hospitalization rate from seasonal influenza. Their safety depends on the rest of us. This is why we provide flu shots for the whole family at After Hours Pediatric Urgent Care.

Flu Myth #4: You can’t catch the flu again if you’ve already had it this season.

There is more than one strain of influenza and it’s possible to contract more than one type of flu in any given season.

Which leads us to…

Flu Myth #4: There are different strains of flu, so one vaccine doesn’t make a difference.

This can be true, but vaccines are more sophisticated these days. According to the CDC, there are different types of flu vaccines.

Different flu shots are approved for people of different ages, but there are traditional flu vaccines made to protect against three different flu viruses (called “trivalent” vaccines). In addition, there are flu vaccines developed to protect against four different flu viruses (called “quadrivalent” vaccines).

Trivalent flu vaccine protects against two influenza A viruses (an H1N1 and an H3N2) and an influenza B virus. The following trivalent flu vaccines are available:

  • Standard-dose trivalent shots (IIV3) that are manufactured using virus grown in eggs.
  • An intradermal trivalent shot, which is injected into the skin instead of the muscle and uses a much smaller needle than the regular flu shot. It is approved for people 18 through 64 years of age.
  • A high-dose trivalent shot, approved for people 65 and older.
  • A trivalent shot, containing virus grown in cell culture, which is approved for people 18 and older.
  • A recombinant trivalent shot that is egg-free, approved for people 18 through 49 years of age.

At After Hours Pediatric Urgent Care, we provide the quadrivalent flu vaccine that protects against two influenza A viruses and two influenza B viruses. We carry both of the following quadrivalent flu vaccines:

  • A quadrivalent flu shot.
  • A quadrivalent nasal spray vaccine, approved for people 2 through 49 years of age (recommended preferentially for healthy* children 2 years through 8 years old when immediately available and there are no contraindications or precautions).

(*“Healthy” in this instance refers to children 2 years through 8 years old who do not have an underlying medical condition that predisposes them to influenza complications.)

Flu Myth #5: Vaccines are dangerous.

Over the past few years, there has been a growing mistrust of vaccines, specifically the ingredient thimerosal. However, there is no evidence that vaccines cause developmental disorders.

In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, among others, have vouched for the safety of today’s vaccine regimen, and insist vaccines are neither toxic at the doses given nor taxing to normal immune systems.

A 2010 pertussis outbreak in California, which caused 9,120 illnesses and 10 deaths, was recently traced to voluntary undervaccination. Earlier this year, Massachusetts public officials raised the alarm when two cases of measles emerged in Boston hospitals. Last year, there were no measles cases in Massachusetts, but in 2011, there were 24 cases.

However, if you are still concerned about vaccine, you should know there are thimerosal-free flu vaccines available as well.

Flu Myth #6: If you’ve made it to November without the flu, you’re home free.

Experts believe this myth developed from the fact that supplies of seasonal influenza vaccine used to run out by November. This is no longer the case. In addition, influenza cases don’t hit their peak until February or sometimes as late as March. So, if you haven’t had your flu shot, come in a get one for the whole family.

Go ahead and tell us about the flu myths you’ve heard.


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