With school starting and the days getting shorter and cooler, it means it is that time of the year to make sure everyone in the family is ready with the essentials: winter coats, snow pants, boots, mittens, hats and flu shots.
The Centers for Disease Control recommends that everyone 6 months of age and older get a seasonal flu vaccine. It is also recommended that healthy children 2-8 years of age get the nasal spray flu vaccine instead of the flu shot. Studies show that the nasal spray flu vaccine can provide better protection than the flu shot for this group.
There are some families who may still prefer not to be vaccinated for the flu. While it is certainly a personal decision, when you are trying to determine what is best for your family, consider the truth behind some common myths about the flu and vaccine.
Flu Myth 1: The flu is just a bad cold
While it is true that most individuals recover from the flu, it does have serious potential implications. The seasonal flu hospitalizes more than 200,000 people in the U.S. each year. For children and the elderly, the risk of serious complications is quite real. Children under 2 years of age have the highest rate of hospitalization from the flu. Those with underlying health conditions are at an even greater risk.
Infants under 6 months are particularly susceptible to the flu because they are too young to be vaccinated. While it’s not realistic to keep them away from people all winter long, it is a good idea to avoid visiting family and friends who are ill or have recently been ill. And, parents and caretakers should get vaccinated to help protect infants and even the elderly for whom they care.
Flu Myth 2: The flu vaccine can give you the flu
This is one of the most common myths we hear, and it is untrue if not impossible. The virus contained in the vaccines cannot infect you. And, while it is difficult to determine why this myth persists, it could be because flu season coincides with a time of year when colds and other respiratory illnesses are common. When someone gets a flu shot and becomes ill, it is likely a coincidence and not a result of the vaccine.
Flu Myth 3: You don’t need a flu vaccine every year
While there are vaccines given based on age, the flu vaccine is needed every year. The particular strains of influenza change each year, and consequently researchers develop a new vaccine based on the strains they believe will be the most prevalent. Also, the immune protection offered by the vaccine does wane over time (although it will last through the season), and unlike the chicken pox, having the flu does not protect you from getting it again.
Flu Myth 4: We should wait to get vaccinated until later in the season
It takes approximately two weeks for antibodies to develop in the body that protect against the influenza virus. It is best for your family to get vaccinated as soon as vaccines are available so they are protected before the virus begins spreading. While it is true that the immune protection resulting from the vaccination does wane over time, it extends through the full season.
A similar myth is that after the end of November, it’s too late to get vaccinated. Influenza is unpredictable and seasons vary. While influenza usually peaks in January or February, it can occur as late as May so it is still a good idea to get vaccinated even in December or later.
Flu Myth 5: Antibiotics can fight the flu
The flu is caused by a virus, not a bacterial infection. Consequently, antibiotics will not have any effect. There can be complications due to the flu, such as bronchitis, sinusitis or even pneumonia. In those cases, antibiotics can help. If you do develop the flu and your symptoms continue to get worse instead of better, that is a sign to call your doctor.
If you have any questions about influenza or the vaccines, talk with your child’s primary care provider to find out what is best for your family.
Flu Myth 6: You only need a single dose of the vaccine
This is somewhat of a trick statement. In general, only a single dose of the vaccine is required. But, there are circumstances when a second dose is necessary. While your child’s primary care provider will help you determine what is right for your situation, in general, children who are 6 months through 8 years of age who are receiving influenza vaccine for the first time may require two doses.
There are a few factors that providers take into consideration when determining whether a second dose is needed. Essentially if your child has received two or more doses of seasonal vaccine since July 1, 2010, then it is likely he or she will only need a single dose.
Flu vaccines are now available in most clinics. If your child does need two doses, it is a good idea to get the first dose as soon as possible since you will have to wait at least four weeks before the second dose.
While the decision to get a flu shot is certainly a personal one, it’s important that you make the decision based on facts. And remember, the shot isn’t going to keep you from getting sick in the first place, but it will help to lessen the severity of the flu and help prevent complications. It will also help to keep those around you safer.
Get the flu vaccine, don’t let a myth get you sick.
For updates about the flu visit uwhealth.org/flu
We want to know: Are you ready for cold and flu season?