10 Myths and Facts You Need to Know About the Flu This Year

The 2017/2018 flu season was the worst we have seen in 40 years.  The statistics are scary:

  • 30,000 hospitalizations were attributed to confirmed flu cases
  • Hospitalizations rates for all ages during the 2017-2018 flu season were the highest ever recorded by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) surveillance system
  • 58% of those hospitalized from flu were over the age of 65
  • 80,000 deaths from the flu last year
  • 180 of those deaths where children and 80% of the children who died from the flu last year were unvaccinated.

Last season, peak flu activity was reached in January 2018 and lasted until March 2018, making it the longest duration of “peak” flu activity since 2009.  According to the latest CDC reports we are already seeing confirmed cases this year.  So, if you are on the fence about getting your vaccination and when to get it here is what you need to know to protect yourself and loved ones:

Myth #1: There is only one flu vaccine.

FALSE. There are several vaccines available. Based on your health history and particular needs, here are the current options to choose from:

  • Standard dose flu shots: meant for people between 6 months and 65 years of age, including pregnant women.
  • High-dose shots (Fluzone): meant for people over the age of 65
  • Shots made with adjuvant (Fluad): meant for people over the age of 65
  • Cell-based flu vaccine (Flucelvax): These are made in animal cells grown in a laboratory instead of in eggs, like other flu vaccines. This vaccine could be beneficial for people who are allergic to eggs
  • Recombinant vaccine (Flublok): another egg-free alternative for people over 18.
  • Live attenuated influenza vaccine or nasal spray (FluMist): meant for people between 2 and 49 years of age who aren’t pregnant. *Flu mist should be avoided in women who are pregnant and those with suppressed immune systems.

Myth #2: The flu vaccine is immediately effective.

FALSE. The flu vaccine takes about 2 weeks to be effective

Myth #3: If I get the flu vaccine, I will get sick with the flu

FALSE. The vaccine contains viruses that are either killed or attenuated (weakened).

Once vaccinated, the goal is for your body to develop antibodies to the flu. Though short-term, you may experience mild symptoms as your body responds to the vaccine and attempts to make antibodies.

The most common side effects from flu shots are soreness, redness, tenderness or swelling where the shot was given. Low-grade fever, headache and muscle aches may also occur. If these reactions occur, they usually begin soon after the shot and last 1-2 days. In a study comparing people who received the inactivated flu shot and others who received salt-water shots, the only differences in symptoms were increased soreness in the arm and redness at the injection site among people who got the flu shot. The flu shot will not give you the flu.

Myth #3: I got the flu vaccine last year, so I don’t need it this year.

FALSE. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends a yearly flu vaccine for everyone over the age of 6 months. The reason for this is that a person’s immune protection from vaccination declines over time, so an annual vaccination is needed to get the “optimal” or best protection against the flu. In addition, flu types vary annually.

Myth #4: It’s better to get the flu than to get the flu vaccine.

FALSE. The flu can be a serious disease, particularly among young children, older adults, and people with certain chronic health conditions, such as asthma, heart disease or diabetes.

Any flu infection can carry a risk of serious complications, hospitalization or death, even among otherwise healthy children and adults. Therefore, getting vaccinated is a safer choice than risking illness to obtain immune protection.

Myth #5: I should wait to get my flu vaccine, so it will last all of flu season.

FALSE. The CDC recommends that people get a flu vaccine by the end of October. Flu activity peaks between December and February, though in previous years, flu activity has been detected as late as May.

Myth #6: It’s too late to get vaccinated after Thanksgiving.

FALSE. Vaccination can still be beneficial if flu viruses are circulating. If you have not been vaccinated by Thanksgiving (or the end of November), it can still be protective to get vaccinated in December or later. The flu is unpredictable, and seasons can vary.

Myth #7: If I get the flu vaccine, I will not get flu.

FALSE. Vaccine effectiveness can vary. Seasonal flu vaccines are designed to protect against infection and illness caused by the three or four influenza viruses (depending on the vaccine) that research indicates will be most common during the flu season.

Recent studies indicate that flu vaccination reduces the risk of flu illness between 40% and 60% among the overall population. It is possible to be exposed to a flu type different from which you were vaccinated. The ability of a flu vaccine to protect a person depends largely on the similarity or “match” between the viruses selected to make the vaccine and those spreading and causing illness. There are many different flu viruses that spread and cause illness among people.

Myth #8: If I get the flu vaccine, I will not get other respiratory viruses.

FALSE. There are many other viruses besides flu viruses that can cause or result in flu-like illness (also known as influenza-like illness or “ILI”) that spread during the flu season.

These non-flu viruses include rhinovirus (one cause of the “common cold”) and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), which is the most common cause of severe respiratory illness in young children, as well as a leading cause of death from respiratory illness in those aged 65 years and older.

Myth #9: My child is healthy, they don’t need the flu shot.

FALSE!! In the 2017/2018 season:

  • 50% of all hospitalizations in children were attributed to the flu.
  • 80% of the deaths from flu occurred in children who had not been vaccinated.
  • Rates of vaccination for children age 6 months to 4 years declined by 2.2%

Myth #10: I’m pregnant, I should get the flu shot this season.

TRUE! The CDC recommends that ALL pregnant women be vaccinated against flu, regardless of trimester.

Bonus Myth: Getting the flu vaccine is the only way that I can help protect myself from flu.

FALSE. In addition to getting immunized, there are several ways to protect yourself against the flu virus and any other respiratory virus.

LIFESTYLE CHANGES TO HELP BOOST IMMUNITY

  • Stay active: routine exercise has been proven to reduce your risk of catching a “cold” by boosting your immune system.
  • Catch the zzz’s: 7-8 hours of sleep daily will help your body rest and recover.
  • Go with your gut: 70% of your immune system is in your gut. A strong immune system relies heavily on having a well-functioning gut. Your gut has both “good” bacteria and “bad” bacteria. Probiotics are known to be “good” bacteria for your gut. Probiotics can help reduce inflammation and prevent infection; they may also reduce the severity of a cold or flu.
  • Get Your Greens: The anti-inflammatory properties in nutrient-dense foods, like dark leafy greens, berries, salmon, and sweet potatoes, help build up your immune system’s defenses. Avoid processed foods. Sugar, gluten, and processed foods all reduce your immune function.
  • Take Your Vitamins: Zinc has powerful immune-boosting and protective effects as well. Studies have shown that Zinc, can help shorten the duration of a cold or flu-like illnesses by a few days. Zinc can be found in foods including pumpkin seeds, spinach, oysters, nuts, and beans. Vitamin C should also be part of your flu season regimen. It has great anti-inflammatory effects, antioxidant activity, and antibiotic qualities.

Written by the team at BSW Direct Care DFW

Ahmad Garret Price, MD

Aleena Kurien, DO

Janel Teal, PA