By Nicole Broerman, MD, FAAP
MYTH: “The influenza vaccine gives me the flu.”
TRUTH: Seasonal flu shots are not alive and are not capable of giving someone the flu (flu is the term used for the illness caused by infection with the virus influenza). Like all medications, they do have potential side effects, the most common of which include soreness and swelling at the injection site, muscle aches and fever. These side effects usually last less than 48 hours and represent the body producing antibodies to better protect you from actually getting sick with influenza.
In contrast, catching the flu results in 3-5 days of high fevers, chills, headache, sore throat, whole body aches, cough, congestion, runny nose, extreme fatigue and in children, also vomiting and diarrhea. The full course lasts 10 days or more and generally makes one quite miserable. Influenza spreads easily from person to person during the winter months and results in 100,000 to 400,000 hospitalizations and anywhere from 3,000 to 49,000 deaths in the US each year. Children under 5 years old are more vulnerable to complications than older children and adolescents. The ACIP (Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices) recommends all children 6 months old and up receive the appropriate influenza vaccine every year.
MYTH: “I get the flu DESPITE receiving the vaccine.”
TRUTH: There is some truth to this statement, but let’s see what’s really going on.
The vaccine takes 2-4 weeks to work, so you may become infected before the vaccine takes effect.
Not all “flu” illnesses are caused by the influenza virus. Many people refer to the “flu” as any illness that resembles that caused by influenza. However, there are numerous viruses common each winter season that resemble the flu. The influenza vaccine is only designed to protect from 3-4 strains (types) of influenza.
The influenza virus is very adaptable and mutates. If the mutations stray far enough from the vaccine strains (which are chosen in January each year for the following season), then the vaccine is less effective in protecting from those mutated strains.
MYTH: “I’ve never gotten the vaccine and I’ve never had the flu, therefore I don’t need the vaccine.”
TRUTH: You may have never had influenza but it is highly contagious, beginning 24 hours before any symptoms of sickness begin to show. Influenza typically continues to be contagious for 5-7 days after you feel sick and may be spread even longer in children. Influenza is estimated to infect 5-20% of people in the US every year. Children under 6 months of age have a very high risk of hospitalization and death so all caregivers should be vaccinated to protect the infant. Adults over 65 years old are at even higher risk, so the more people who receive the vaccine, the less likely they spread to our aging adult population. Additionally, flu seasons are unpredictable and can be severe – why risk your health and the health of those around you?
MYTH: I can’t get the flu vaccine because I am allergic to eggs.
TRUTH: Actually, you can get the flu vaccine. For years, this guideline has been evolving. Currently anyone who does not have an anaphylactic reaction to eggs may receive the flu shot. If you have experienced anaphylaxis to eggs, discuss your options with your medical provider or Allergist.
Simply put, receiving the influenza vaccine is the best way to protect you and your loved ones from getting influenza each year. Reddy Pediatrics and Reddy Medical Group are now offering flu vaccines.
Nicole Broerman, MD, FAAP, is a board certified pediatrician. She is a graduate of UGA and the Medical College of Georgia. Dr. Broerman is a recipient of the Award for Outstanding Service, South Carolina Physician of the Year. Dr. Broerman, along with her husband, son and cat, have settled into Watkinsville, GA and enjoy walking, hiking, swimming, reading, movies and church.