As the summer draws to a close and the school year begins, so does the start of yet another flu season. Though most people think of winter as flu season, the spread of influenza can begin as early as October.
The best protection against influenza is a yearly flu shot, yet many people have reservations about getting immunized. There is a lot of misinformation and myth surrounding the flu shot, so it can sometimes be hard to sort out flu-shot-fact from flu-shot-fiction.
Here are some of the most common concerns I hear in my practice when I offer my patients the flu shot:
- “The flu shot will give me the flu.” The influenza vaccine is inactivated, which means it does not contain any live virus, and therefore cannot infect you with the flu. Any vaccine has the potential to cause mild side effects. These side effects may include soreness at the site of injection, mild body aches and a low grade fever. If these symptoms occur, they begin soon after the shot is given and last 1-2 days. Most people who receive the flu shot experience no side effects at all.
- “I want to wait until November to get my flu shot, so it will last the entire season.” It takes about two weeks for our bodies to develop antibodies and provide full protection against influenza after receiving the flu shot, and influenza season can actually begin as early as October. For this reason, the CDC (Center for Disease Control) recommends that vaccination begin as soon as the vaccine becomes available – as early as August or September, and continue throughout flu season to ensure the highest possible level of vaccination. Getting your flu shot early in the season will likely provide you with the longest level of protection.
- “Last year I got the flu shot, but I still got sick.” This year’s flu shot will protect you from infection and illness caused by three strains of influenza virus, including the H1N1 virus. The WHO (World Health Organization) does its best each year to determine which viruses to include in the vaccine based on their surveillance and projections. Flu vaccines do NOT protect against other infections and illnesses caused by other viruses. There are many other viruses that can cause influenza –like symptoms. The flu shot does not protect you against these other viruses or against the common cold or a gastrointestinal virus.
True influenza is different from a cold. It comes on suddenly. Typical symptoms include fever, cough, body aches, fatigue and headache. Symptoms can range from mild to severe, and complications such as pneumonia can occur. Young children, pregnant women, the elderly and people with chronic illnesses are at higher risk of developing complications.
Getting a flu shot and washing your hands regularly are the best things you can do to keep from getting the flu. So, don’t wait. Get vaccinated today!
Betsey Miller, MSN CRNP
Good Hope Family Practice, a member of PinnacleHealth Medical Group
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