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Fact or fiction: Busting myths about the flu

Riddle Hospital September 23, 2015 General Wellness
Last Updated on August 28, 2018

It may feel as though you just finished putting away the last of your summer clothes, but believe it or not—it’s already time to start preparing for the flu. Although flu season peaks in colder months like January and February, flu activity and outbreaks can begin as soon as October.

And with flu season, comes an outbreak of excuses and myths about flu vaccinations, too.

“There are a plenty of reasons why people think they shouldn’t be vaccinated, or mistakenly think flu vaccinations are harmful,” says Denise Mulvaney, MD, family practice physician at Riddle Hospital. “Unfortunately, these can discourage people from getting the flu shot, which not only affects them, but others around them who may be at a higher risk.”

Below, Dr. Mulvaney helps separate flu fact from fiction.

Myth #1: The flu vaccination can hurt my baby if I’m pregnant.

Many women are reluctant to get the flu vaccination during pregnancy because of questions about how it will affect their unborn baby.

“Pregnant women are at a higher risk for flu-related complications than the general population, so a flu vaccination during pregnancy should be a priority,” says Dr. Mulvaney.

Pregnant women who are vaccinated pass their immunity on to their unborn baby, and that protection can last for several months after birth. Babies born to mothers who don’t receive the flu vaccination won’t receive the same protection. You might be hesitant to receive the flu vaccine, but remember: It has benefits for you and your baby.

Myth #2: The flu vaccine gives you the flu.

While it’s true that the vaccine is from a version of the flu virus, it comes from a ‘killed’ version of the virus that can’t cause infection. Most people that receive the flu vaccine do not usually have problems however a few people will have minor symptoms of sore throat, hoarseness, cough, fever aches, headache, itching and fatigue. This usually resolves within one to two days. More serious problems are rare.

Myth #3: The flu is just a bad cold.

Flu symptoms can vary, so for some, it may not feel like more than a cold. But for others, the flu can include symptoms like a high fever, a runny or stuffy nose, headaches and body aches, chills, fatigue, nausea, and vomiting.

Another reason not to treat the flu like a cold? Thousands of people are hospitalized each year with severe flu symptoms like shortness of breath, chest pain or pressure, dizziness, vomiting, discoloration of the lips, confusion, or seizures. If you start to notice symptoms like these, seek medical attention immediately.

Myth #4: The flu vaccine is the same every year. If I got it last year, I don’t need it this year.

“The flu is an infection caused by several different types of influenza virus. The vaccine changes every year to reflect the viruses that are most likely to be a problem in that year,” explains Dr. Mulvaney. “That’s why you should get a vaccine every year. Last year’s vaccine won’t be effective because it doesn’t contain the right influenza types for the current year.”

Myth #5: If you’re healthy, you don’t need the flu vaccine.

A common misconception about the flu vaccine is that if you’re a healthy person, you don’t need it. Not so. Healthy practices like washing your hands, avoiding touching your eyes, nose, or mouth, and eating a healthy diet, can decrease your risk for the flu, but they won’t protect you completely. No matter how healthy you are, you can still be at risk for the flu, even if you were vaccinated last year.

For more information on the flu vaccine, you can also visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Website at CDC.gov. For a full list of where the flu vaccine is being distributed in your area, visit flu.gov.