Influenza: What You Should Know About the Flu
Published on in Health Tip of the Week
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Published on in Health Tip of the Week
Flu season is on the horizon — and while everyone may be familiar with the influenza virus and how lousy it feels to be in bed with the flu, there are some myths about influenza and the influenza vaccine that persist year after year.
Here are the most common misconceptions (including some new information about getting flu and COVID-19 vaccines at the same time):
Fact: The influenza vaccine isn't perfect, and it is possible, although unlikely, that you can become ill with the flu even if you have received the vaccine. However, if you get the influenza vaccine and still get the flu, your symptoms are likely to be much less severe than if you skipped the vaccine altogether.
Fact: The influenza virus changes as it replicates. That means each flu season, the strains of the virus circulating may be different enough that immunity from previous vaccinations or infections is no longer protective.
The flu vaccines that arrive in doctors’ offices and pharmacies each fall have been revised to more closely represent the influenza viruses that are expected to arrive in the upcoming flu season. Therefore, you need to get vaccinated for a new flu season (for example, fall/early winter 2022) even if you got vaccinated earlier in the same calendar year (for example, January 2022) because the new flu season can bring a new strain.
Another reason to get vaccinated against flu each year is because immune protection from the influenza vaccine fades over time.
For these reasons, it’s important to get the flu vaccine every year.
Fact: The influenza vaccine shot doesn't contain live viruses, so it can't cause the flu. Although the nasal spray version does contain live, weakened influenza vaccine viruses, these viruses cannot enter the bloodstream or reproduce themselves in the lungs to cause an infection.
Side effects from the influenza shot may include soreness at the site of injection, low-grade fever, headache or muscle aches. For those who get the nasal spray, side effects may include mild congestion, runny nose, sore throat or cough.
These symptoms rarely last longer than a few hours. You can choose the nasal spray instead of the shot if you are a healthy person aged 2 to 49.
However, vaccination should not be delayed to wait for a particular version of the vaccine (unless you have a medical reason not to get the vaccine). It is most important to be immunized in advance of influenza season.
Fact: While some may feel like the flu is nothing more than a stuffy, achy, feverish inconvenience, the flu can be a very serious condition, especially in young children and people at high risk for suffering complications.
Pregnant women and people with asthma, heart conditions or diabetes are among those considered to be at higher risk for complications that can lead to hospitalization or death even in previously healthy individuals.
Fact: It might have been years since you last had the flu, and you may think of yourself and/or your kids as pretty healthy, so you don’t usually get yourself or your kids vaccinated. But every year, previously healthy parents and children die from the flu — in fact, thousands to tens of thousands of people in the United States die each year from influenza and its complications.
Getting vaccinated keeps the influenza virus out of your house, which is especially important if you have a baby too young to be vaccinated. Children younger than 6 months can't receive the influenza vaccine.
As with other respiratory infections, influenza virus can find its way into your house even if your family is limiting contact with the outside world.
Remember that the flu is more dangerous to your child than the average cold, since it can lead to more serious conditions such as pneumonia or other bacterial infections. Be sure to make an appointment to have yourself and your children vaccinated for the flu. All children 6 months and older are recommended to receive the influenza vaccine.
Fact: It is safe to get both vaccines in the same season — even at the same time. The human immune system is capable of responding simultaneously to hundreds, if not thousands, of antigens, which are substances such as vaccines that trigger an immune system response. Every day, kids are challenging their immune systems in this way as they grow and are exposed to more things in the world.
Also consider that for years, we have been safely and effectively vaccinating children with multiple vaccines at the same time. For example, children often receive diptheria, tetanus, pertussis, Haemophilus influenzae, pneumococcal and polio vaccines all in the same day with only transient side effects and excellent immune response.
Both the flu and COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective in preventing infection, transmission and hospitalization due to each condition. It’s safe to get them both without delay!
Visit the Vaccine Education Center website for more information about influenza and the influenza vaccine.
Contributed by: Paul A. Offit, MD
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