According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), seasonal influenza sickens millions of Americans every year, hospitalizes more than 200,000, and, during severe outbreaks, the illness has claimed up to 49,000 lives. Those numbers would be lower if more people got the flu vaccine, which can help prevent contracting or transmitting the virus.
There are many misconceptions about the flu, said Dr. Michael Noble, a physician and Director of the Humana Health & Well-being Center that serves Humana associates in Louisville, Kentucky. “People use the term ‘flu’ to refer to a sinus or even a stomach infection. Influenza is a virus whose primary symptoms are respiratory, along with fever and body aches,” he said.
Some people underestimate the importance of preventing the flu, while others have anxiety surrounding the vaccine itself, Noble explained. Some of that anxiety comes from misinformation about potential dangers of the vaccine, like a recent rumor that the vaccine can trigger autism in children.
“There’s been no reliable research that’s shown any connection between those conditions,” Noble said.
Who should get the flu shot?
The flu shot is recommended for nearly everyone, including pregnant women and HIV patients, said Noble. It’s not recommended for children younger than six months old. Aside from that, the only people who should talk to their doctor before getting the vaccine are those who have any of the following:
- A severely compromised immune systems as a result of a serious ongoing condition like cancer
- A history of Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS), an illness that causes paralysis
- An egg allergy
- A history of allergic reaction to the vaccine
- Ongoing symptoms of an acute illness
Flu shot symptoms
The vaccine doesn’t cause the flu (another common misconception), though some people may briefly experience mild flu-like symptoms after receiving the vaccine. That’s the effect of the immune system learning how to combat the weakened or dead influenza virus introduced into the body via the vaccine. The flu mist uses a diminished live virus, while the flu shot injects a dead virus.
The vaccine has reliably demonstrated that it can prevent people from getting the flu, or reduce the severity and duration of the symptoms in those who do contract it.
You should get the vaccine even if you are not worried about getting the flu yourself, said Noble.
“Even if you contract the flu and can tolerate it, someone you come in contact with, someone you love, may not,” he said. “You don’t want to give it to them, do you?”
For more information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on seasonal influenza, click here.