Northwestern Medicine

Don't Let Flu Myths Keep You from Staying Healthy as Flu Season Ramps Up

Northwestern Memorial Hospital January 09, 2014

Northwestern Medicine® dispels common flu myths that prevent some from staying healthy

CHICAGO, IL – When it comes to the flu and flu shot, there are myths and misunderstandings that can prevent people from staying healthy. While some may consider influenza, commonly known as the flu, to be a more of a nuisance than a serious illness, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 200,000 people are hospitalized due to flu-related complications each year. For individuals who are especially susceptible to developing complications, such as children under the age of five, adults age 65 or older and women who are pregnant, catching the flu can result in serious complications that may even be fatal.

Northwestern Medicine® has seen the number of flu cases increase dramatically in the past few weeks, with a total of 101 confirmed cases as of January 4. At least 75 percent of those cases were caused by the infamous H1N1 strain, which first surfaced in humans in 2009.

“Vaccination is the most important way to keep yourself from getting sick with influenza” said Gary A. Noskin, MD, senior vice president and chief medical officer at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. “Patients who are reluctant to get the flu shot often believe that it is unnecessary for them or that it may actually cause the flu, neither of which is correct. We know that between five to 20 percent of the population contracts the flu each year, and the majority of them have not been vaccinated.”

Below are some common myths and misunderstandings about the flu, followed by the facts:

I am really only at risk for catching the flu when it is coldest in the middle of winter, so if I can stay safe then I will be okay during the rest of the year.

While the height of the flu season can be during the coldest time of the year, it can also take place in the fall, early spring or even last through multiple seasons. The CDC states that the peak of flu season has occurred anywhere from late November through March, so while it isn’t too late to get a flu shot in January, it is usually best to get it earlier in the season.

It is not important to be vaccinated against the flu if you are healthy.

Being healthy can help prevent someone from getting the flu, but no one is immune, which is why getting the flu shot is so important. Young children, the elderly and pregnant women are at higher risk for flu complications than the general public under any circumstance, so it is especially important for these individuals to get vaccinated. “People living with chronic diseases, such as diabetes, asthma or cardiovascular disease, are also more likely to be severely impacted by the flu,” said Noskin.

Getting the flu shot can give you the flu.

Getting a flu shot cannot give someone the flu. It is possible for someone to get the flu shot and then get sick if he or she was already infected with the virus, or that some mild flu-like symptoms may occur afterward, but these symptoms are rare. “The vaccination cannot give someone the flu. Every flu shot contains a form of the virus that is inactive and no longer infectious,” said Noskin.

It really doesn’t matter if I get the flu shot or not because it won’t affect anyone but me if I get sick.

Getting a flu shot is not only important for your health, but the health of those around you. “Passing on the flu to loved ones, co-workers or anyone you happen to stand next to is very easy. Just one cough or sneeze sends thousands of tiny, infectious droplets into the air, and that can infect anyone who is at risk of more serious complications from the flu,” said Noskin. “Interestingly, you can start spreading the flu up to 24 hours before you develop symptoms or even know you have been infected.”

Even though the flu won’t put most people in the hospital, it is always best to stay healthy. While getting a seasonal flu shot is the best way to prevent the flu, there are additional ways to stay healthy and infection free.

“It is important to regularly wash your hands with soap and water. Everyday interactions and routines cause us to come in contact with surfaces that are frequently used by others, such as keyboards, phones and doorknobs. Because soap and water isn’t always easily available, using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer can offer a quick and simple solution that is just as effective,” said Noskin.

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