What’s True About the Flu?
Are you coughing? Do you have a fever, chills, a sore throat or a headache? You might have influenza, also known as the flu. A severe respiratory illness, the flu can be easily spread — usually from coughing or sneezing — and can lead to severe complications and even death. Can you protect yourself against the flu? Yes. The most important — and easiest — preventative step anyone can take is to get vaccinated every year.
Each year, as the flu season approaches, doctors hear the same comments:
“The flu shot can make me sick.”
“I never get vaccinated, and I never get the flu, so I don’t need the shot.”
“The flu isn’t dangerous.”
“A flu shot isn’t needed every year.”
On average each year, these and many other misconceptions lead from 5 percent to 20 percent of the population getting the flu and more than 200,000 people being hospitalized for flu-related complications.
So how can we change these statistics? Let’s talk about some of these myths.
The flu shot can make me sick.
The flu vaccine is made from an inactivated virus that can’t cause infection. So, if you get sick after getting a flu vaccination, you were likely going to get sick anyway. It usually takes a week or two to get protection from the vaccine, so many people assume that because they got sick after getting the vaccine, the shot caused their illness. This just isn’t true.
I never get vaccinated, and I never get the flu, so I don’t need the shot.
You just happened to get lucky. You can never predict when you’ll get the flu.
The flu isn’t dangerous.
Wrong. The flu can be very serious, particularly among young children, older adults and people with certain chronic health conditions, such as asthma, heart disease or diabetes. And, although the flu may not sound very scary, it is far more prevalent than many other diseases you see in headlines and on TV.
I don’t need a flu shot every year.
Yes, you probably do — for two reasons. First, your body’s immune response from a vaccination declines over time, so you need this annual vaccine to give yourself the best protection. Second, the flu virus characteristics are constantly changing, so the formulation for the flu vaccine is continuously updated to keep up with these changes. People aged six months and older should get vaccinated annually. If you have any allergies or health concerns, contact your physician first before getting vaccinated.
Immunizations are one of the greatest advances in preventative medicine. Northwestern Medicine follows the standard Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines for immunizations for all of our patients. We also keep up to date on the newest vaccine products and recommendations. Because the timing of the flu is unpredictable and varies in different parts of the country, besides getting your immunization, you can take everyday preventative actions to decrease your chances of getting the flu: stay away from people who are ill and wash your hands to reduce the spread of germs. If you are sick with the flu, stay home to help prevent spreading it to others.