Dispelling common myths about the flu
Grand River Student Health Center, Parachute
School is back in session, days are getting shorter, and nights are getting cooler. Fall is just around the corner, and fall is the season when everyone ages 6 months and older should get their flu shot.
Influenza (the flu) is a highly contagious respiratory disease caused by influenza viruses. The flu affects the nose, throat and lungs and can cause mild to serious sickness and even death. It is passed from person to person via droplets – when an infected person sneezes, coughs or talks the flu virus leaves their body and can infect another person who breaths that air.
Did you know on average, 40,000 people die of influenza and its complications every year? And more than 250,000 people are hospitalized each year with influenza and its complications. Groups that are at higher risk for serious illness with the flu are young children, the elderly, the obese, pregnant women and people with immune system disorders or other chronic illnesses.
According to Gregory Poland, MD, a Mayo Clinic infectious diseases and vaccine expert, many myths about the flu are circulating that may prevent people from taking the flu seriously. Here are seven common myths about the flu that need to be dispelled.
Myth No. 1: The seasonal flu vaccines can give a person the flu.
False. The flu “shot” is made of inactivated flu proteins and it is impossible for them to cause the flu. The flu nasal mist vaccine has weakened live flu viruses that cannot multiply or cause disease. It takes one to two weeks for your body to build up immunity to the flu. If a person gets the flu after receiving the flu vaccine, it is most likely they were going to get the flu anyway.
Myth No. 2: Healthy people do not need to get vaccinated against the seasonal flu.
Not true. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends all individuals age 6 months and older be vaccinated every year. This includes well children, well adults, pregnant women and the elderly.
According to the CDC, the only individuals who should not receive a flu vaccine are those who have had a severe allergic reaction, such as anaphylaxis, to a previous dose of any flu vaccine or to a vaccine component. There are now flu shots that do not contain egg protein so even someone who has severe allergies to eggs can get the vaccine.
The CDC recommends the flu mist vaccine that is administered into the nose not be given to pregnant women, immunosuppressed individuals, individuals with egg allergies or anyone taking antiviral medications within the previous 48 hours. These people should receive the flu shot instead.
Myth No. 3: If you don’t get the shot in the fall, it is too late to receive the flu vaccine.
Wrong. It is best to get the flu vaccine before flu season begins because it takes one to two weeks for your body to build up immunity. However, it is never too late to receive the flu vaccine. Even if you have had the flu, you should get the vaccine to protect against other strains of the flu. Each year the vaccine contains inactivated flu proteins of the three most common flu strains but there are hundreds of strains of flu that are not as common. The flu vaccine is not 100 percent effective but like seat belts, it won’t work at all if you don’t use it.
Myth No. 4: Getting the flu vaccine is all that is needed to prevent the flu.
False. There are several things you can do to prevent catching the flu. Frequent and good hand washing, getting plenty of rest, eating healthy and avoiding people who are sick are all ways to avoid catching the flu. Getting the flu vaccine every year is a very important preventative measure as well.
Myth No. 5: Seasonal flu is harmless; just like a bad cold.
Not true. The flu usually makes you feel terrible. Symptoms include high fever, chills, body aches, dizziness, cough and congestion. The illness usually lasts for four to five days which means missed productivity from work and school. And catching the flu increases the risk for serious, secondary infections such as pneumonia.
Myth No. 6: Stomach flu is a form of influenza.
Wrong. Gastrointestinal viruses cause the “stomach flu” but these have no connection to the influenza viruses. Young children may have vomiting and diarrhea when they are sick with the flu but it is rare in adults. If you have vomiting and diarrhea without fever and body aches you probably have a gastrointestinal virus but not the flu.
Myth No. 7: There is no treatment for the flu.
False. There are several antiviral drugs approved for treating the flu in the United States. None of these medications will cure the flu but they can reduce the symptoms and length of the illness and make you less contagious to others. The drugs are most effective if they are taken within 48 hours of the first symptom.
Antibiotics treat bacterial infections and since viruses cause influenza, these medications will not help treat the flu. However, complications of the flu may include a secondary bacterial infection and then antibiotics will be needed. Your health care provider will be able to tell you if and when you may need an antibiotic.
The CDC recommends staying home and avoiding other people if you do get sick with the flu. It is important to drink lots of fluids and take medications such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen for the fever and body aches.
Seek medical attention if you develop breathing difficulties, inability to drink fluids, confusion or severe irritability, not interacting with others, fever with a rash, or if your symptoms get better and then return with a fever and worse cough. You should not return to work or school until you have been fever free for 24 hours without taking fever reducing medicine.
The flu is a highly contagious viral infection that can cause severe illness and even death. An important preventative action we all can take is to get a flu vaccine every fall and be sure our loved ones get their flu vaccine too. Here’s to your health.
Anne Galloway is a certified family nurse practitioner at the Grand River Student Health Center in Parachute. She can be at 970-285-5719.
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