Test Your Flu IQ - Separating Myth From Fact

  • Test Your Flu IQWhen it comes to the flu and flu vaccines, there is sometimes confusion and misinformation. You can use this post to test your "flu IQ" and learn the facts about influenza, as well as flu shots and vaccines. Flu season is fast approaching, so make sure you are well informed.


    Question #1: Can the Flu Vaccine Cause You to Get the Flu?


    This is a very common myth and one of the most frequent reasons I hear from the public for not getting an annual flu shot. It seems almost everyone has either experienced (they think) or knows someone who has gotten a mild case of the flu from a flu shot.


    Answer: The flu vaccine cannot cause the respiratory infection called influenza, commonly known as the flu. The virus used in a flu shot is already killed. The virus used in the nasal spray vaccine, while not killed, is severely weakened. In either case, neither vaccine can cause a flu infection.

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    Question #2: Isn't the "Stomach Flu" the Same Thing as Influenza?


    Starting in July this year, I had friends on Facebook posting that their kids had come down with the flu. As a nurse and health educator, I had to point out that the flu is extremely rare during the summer months. They were quick to tell me it was "the stomach flu."


    Answer: "Stomach flu" is a popular term for an acute illness causing gastrointestinal symptoms such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Influenza is a viral infection of the respiratory tract resulting in these common symptoms:

    • Fever
    • Headache
    • Extreme fatigue
    • Dry cough
    • Sore throat
    • Muscle soreness

    Occasionally, children -- but rarely aduts -- may also have nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. So, as you can see, these are two different types of infection. And flu vaccines will not prevent the so-called "stomach flu".


    Question #3: If I Forget or Don't Manage to Get My Flu Vaccine By the Start of Flu Season, Is it Too Late to Be Effective?


    Flu vaccine generally becomes available sometime in September of each year, depending on the pharmaceutical companies' production schedule. But as early fall runs into the ever-lengthening holiday season, sometimes getting a flu vaccine goes on the back burner. Some people think that once the flu virus begins to circulate in their area, it's too late to get a flu shot.


    Answer: It's never too late... or almost never. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC for short) recommends that people get vaccinated as soon as vaccine becomes available each year, particularly for high-risk people, such as those of us who have asthma. But they also point out that vaccination can continue into December, January and even beyond. Although the vaccine doesn't reach full effectiveness for a week or two after you receive it, you will still gain some benefit, even should you be exposed the day after getting your shot.


    Influenza activity usually peaks in February most years, but disease can occur as late as May. So, even if you wait till well after the holidays, a late flu vaccine can still provide some measure of protection from serious illness.


    Question #4: Do I Really Need to Get the Flu Vaccine Every Single Year?


    The idea of a vaccine conjures up long-term protection when we think about the childhood diseases we all got vaccines for as kids. Do you remember getting the polio vaccine, measles, mumps and rubella and so on? So shouldn't the flu vaccine provide the same sort of long-term protection?


    Answer: Unfortunately, the flu viruses that circulate each year are slightly different. So the CDC recommends yearly vaccination, using a vaccine that has been updated to include the three or four most likely viruses researchers believe will be circulating in the current year. Also, flu immunity can decline over time, so a yearly vaccination is recommended for optimal protection.

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    Question #5: What Is the Best Line of Defense Against the Flu?


    Some people have a resistance to getting the flu vaccine. They may be worried about side effects or that it will hurt to get a shot. They may not want to spend the money or take the time. There can be dozens of reasons why people choose not to get a flu vaccine. So, are there other ways to prevent the flu in these cases?


    Answer: It is true that preventive actions, such as washing your hands often, especially after being in public or knowing that you've come into contact with someone who has the flu, can help to stop the spread of germs. However, the CDC strongly recommends a flu vaccine as the first and most important step in protecting yourself against the flu.


    Question #6: How Is the Flu Really Spread?


    The flu is a respiratory infection, which is the key to understanding how it can so rapidly spread through a family or a classroom.


    Answer: Flu virus is mainly spread through droplets from coughing and/or sneezing. The droplets may be airborne or they alight onto surfaces, such as eating utensils, sink faucets, desktops and so forth. Unless you live alone and never come into contact with other people, there is a good chance that you will be exposed to the flu virus at some point each year.


    Question #7: The Flu Isn't All That Serious Is it?


    Many people believe that you can just "gut it out" if you catch the flu. They think that is preferable to putting up with the possible discomfort of a flu vaccine.


    Answer: The flu is a serious contagious disease that causes illness and hospitalizations and even death each year in the United States. Flu seasons can vary in severity. Over a period of 30 years, between 1976 and 2006, flu-related deaths ranged from 3,000 to as high as 49,000 people. Many of the deaths were in people considered high-risk, including those who have asthma.


    Question #8: What Do I Do If I Am Afraid of Needles?


    Probably one of the most common, but perhaps not always commonly admitted to, reasons for avoiding a flu vaccine is the fear of needles. Most of us don't like to "get stuck." It hurts and it can leave you with muscle soreness that persists for days.


    Answer: First of all, the reality of a shot is often much better than your imagination. A skilled clinician can often give a shot in a way that you barely feel it. The needle used is fairly small and the vaccine itself should not be too painful. And while there may be some muscle soreness afterward, it can usually be relieved with mild analgesics and/or ice.


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    The good news is that flu shots are not the only option these days. Some people can get the flu vaccine in a nasal spray. The bad news is, you must be between the ages of 2 and 49 years old and fall into the CDC definition of "healthy." People with chronic conditions, such as asthma, are not considered healthy in this context.


    Question #9: Can't I Avoid Getting the Flu By Making Sure I Avoid People Who Are Sick?


    People with the flu are generally sick enough to need to stay home from work or school (or other public places), so you might think it would be easy to avoid getting infected.


    Answer: Unfortunately, the fact is that most healthy adults can start infecting others beginning one day before symptoms develop and then for another five to seven days afterward. That means the flu can be passed on to you by someone who doesn't even know they are going to get sick yet.


    Question #10: Can't I Just Get a Prescription for One of the New Antiviral Medicines If I Do Come Down With the Flu?


    There are two fairly new antiviral medications that just came on to the market in the past few  years. They are made in pill, liquid or inhaled powder form and they fight against the flu when it is already infecting your body. Common brands are Tamiflu (oseltamivir) and Relenza (zanamivir) and they can get you feeling better within a few days, provided you start them within the first 24 to 48 hours you start having symptoms. But you will have to endure being sick for a few days first and if you have asthma, the flu can send your asthma spiraling out of control before the antiviral drugs take effect.


    There is no question: A yearly flu vaccination is the first and best way to prevent influenza!


    Reference/More info: http://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/whoshouldvax.htm

Published On: October 08, 2014