If You Knew About the Flu, You’d Get Your Flu Shot, Too!

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By Hallie Hudson, PharmD, TTS

Believe it or not, flu season is right around the corner. With flu season approaching, it’s important that we clear up some myths that you may have heard over the years.

Flu Vaccine Myths & Facts

1.  Myth: Healthy people don’t need to get a flu shot.

Fact: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends an annual flu shot for all people 6 months of age and older, including pregnant women. The flu vaccine is strongly recommended for anyone who does not want to be sick with the flu or unintentionally spread the virus to those around them. Adults 65 years and older, children under 2 years old, and people with chronic health conditions are more likely to have more serious problems if they get the flu. 

2. Myth: But the flu shot can give me the flu!

Fact: The flu shot will not give you the flu. The injectable flu vaccine is an inactivated vaccine, which means that the viral strains have been killed and cannot cause the flu. Sometimes, people experience side effects from the flu shot (like muscle aches, nausea, or fever), but this does not mean that the flu shot gave you the flu. Typically, side effects from the flu go away within a couple of days.

3. Myth: I got the flu shot last year, so I don’t need to get one this year.

Fact: Flu viruses are always changing, and each year the flu shot is designed to protect against new viruses that are circulating. It’s important to get your flu shot every year to protect yourself from current flu strains.

4. Myth: You can’t spread the flu if you are feeling well.

Fact: About 20 to 30% of people who carry the flu virus have no symptoms. These people can still spread the flu virus to those around them. So, it’s important that you get your flu shot to not only protect yourself, but to protect those around you as well.

5. Myth: You can catch the flu from going out in cold weather without a coat or with wet hair.

Fact: The only way you can catch the flu is by being exposed to the flu virus. Since flu season coincides with cold weather, many people often think you can catch the flu from being outside in the cold.

6. Myth: I am pregnant so I shouldn’t get the flu shot.

Fact: The inactivated flu vaccine is safe at any stage of pregnancy, so be sure to get your flu shot!

Now that we’ve talked a little bit about some common flu vaccine myths, let’s talk more about the flu, the importance of your yearly flu shot, and flu season.

So, what exactly is the flu (influenza)?

The flu, or influenza, is a contagious respiratory illness that is caused by flu viruses, and it infects the nose, throat, and sometimes the lungs. The flu is different from the common cold. It can cause mild to severe illness, and, in some instances, it can result in death. Patients who have the flu typically experience fever, cough, sore throat, chills, runny nose, body aches, headaches, and tiredness.

Young children, older adults, and people with chronic health conditions are at a higher risk for flu complications. Getting vaccinated with the flu vaccine each year is the best way to protect you and those around you from getting the flu.

What are symptoms of the flu?

  • Fever* or feeling feverish/chills

  • Cough

  • Sore throat

  • Runny or stuffy nose

  • Muscle or body aches

  • Headache

  • Fatigue (tiredness)

  • Some people may have nausea or diarrhea, but this is more common in children than adults

*Remember, not everyone who has the flu will have a fever.

What is the best way to prevent to the flu?

The most important step in preventing the flu is to get the flu vaccine every year! The flu vaccine has been shown to reduce flu related illnesses as well as the risk of serious complications from the flu. The CDC also recommends preventative actions that you can take every day to prevent the flu. These actions include covering coughs and sneezes, washing your hands frequently, and staying away from people who are sick.

What is the flu vaccine?

As mentioned in the myth and facts section, the flu vaccine or “flu shot” is an inactivated vaccine, which means the strains included in the vaccine have been killed. The nasal spray flu vaccine is a live-attenuated vaccine, which means that even though it contains live viruses, the viruses have been weakened. The flu vaccine can contain either 3 or 4 virus strains. The trivalent flu vaccine contains 3 strains of flu virus whereas the quadrivalent flu vaccine contains 4 strains of flu virus.

When should I get vaccinated?

Flu season typically runs from October to May, with a majority of flu cases happening from late December to early March. The flu vaccine is usually offered as early as September. You should get the flu vaccine before the flu begins spreading in your community. The flu vaccine takes about two weeks before it is effective, which is why it’s important to get vaccinated as soon as possible.

Why do I need a flu vaccine every year?

A flu vaccine is needed every season for two reasons. First, your body’s immune response to the vaccine declines over time. So, it’s important that you get a vaccine each year for the best protection against the flu. Second, flu viruses are constantly changing, so the formulation of the flu vaccine is reviewed each year and changed as needed to keep up with the changing virus strains.

Can I get the flu even though I got a flu shot?

Yes, you can still get sick with the flu even if you got your flu shot. There are a few reasons that you can get the flu despite getting your flu shot:

  • You may be exposed to a flu virus shortly before getting vaccinated or during the period it takes for the body to build protection after getting your flu shot. Remember, it typically takes about two weeks after getting your flu shot for your body to build protection against the flu.

  • You may be exposed to a flu virus that was not included in the seasonal flu vaccine. Many different flu viruses circulate each year, and typically four of the most common strains are included in the flu shot.

  • Even after receiving the flu shot, you may become infected with a flu virus that the flu vaccine was designed to protect you against. Protection provided by the flu shot can vary mainly due to health and age factors. A flu vaccine tends to work best in healthy, younger adults and older children. Although the flu vaccine is not perfect, it is still the best way to protect you against the flu.

How is the flu diagnosed and treated?

Most people with the flu have mild illness and don’t need medical care or antiviral medications. If you get very sick, are pregnant, at high risk of flu-related complications, or are 65 years or older, you should call your doctor.

It is difficult to distinguish the flu from other respiratory infections based on symptoms alone. However, if you think you may have the flu, you can visit your doctor’s office or urgent care center and they can test for the flu. Keep in mind, not all doctor’s offices or urgent centers are able to test for the flu, so it is important that you check before you go.

If you have been experiencing flu symptoms for 48 hours or less, and you are diagnosed with the flu, then your doctor may prescribe an antiviral medication.

What should I do if I have the flu?

  • If you get sick with the flu, you should avoid contact with other people except to get medical care.

  • Wash your hands frequently.

  • Be sure to drink plenty of water and other clear fluids to help prevent fluid loss (or dehydration).

  • Humidifiers can also help moisturize your nasal, throat, and lung passages, which allows air to pass through easier.

  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol®) or ibuprofen (Advil®, Motrin®) can be used to help relieve fever, headache, and muscle aches and pains. * It is important to talk to your doctor or pharmacist prior to taking these medications especially if you have other health conditions.

  • Throat lozenges can also be used to help with sore throat.

Still have questions about the flu shot? Stop in the pharmacy today and talk to your pharmacist about the flu vaccine!

At the pharmacy, we can administer the flu vaccine to individuals 9 years of age and older. Vaccines are subject to availability. State-, age-, and health-related restrictions may apply.

This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. We encourage you to discuss with your doctor any questions or concerns you may have.

 

References:

1.       https://www.cdc.gov/ncird/index.html

2.       https://www.cdc.gov/flu/prevent/keyfacts.htm

3.       https://www.cdc.gov/flu/season/flu-season-2018-2019.htm

4.       https://www.pharmacytimes.com/publications/issue/2001/2001-10/2001-10-6817

5.       https://www.cdc.gov/flu/prevent/nasalspray.htm

6.       https://www.cdc.gov/flu/treatment/takingcare.htm

Hallie Hudson, PharmD