The Flu Epidemic: Unmasking Facts & Myths
Yvette C. Terrie, BS Pharm, RPh
For patients who have reservations about flu vaccination, this guide can ease concerns.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the 2012-2013 influenza season has reached epidemic proportions due to the high number of flu-related deaths reported so far. Escalating rates of infection have marked it as one of the worst influenza outbreaks in nearly a decade.
The influenza virus is serious—and contagious—and it can lead to hospitalization and even death. This is especially true among children and the elderly, due to complications such as pneumonia, otitis media (middle ear infection), sinus infections, and dehydration. The flu can also make certain medical conditions worse. The good news is that there are things you can do to reduce or even prevent the spread of the influenza virus.
Flu Vaccine: Know the Facts
Getting a flu vaccine every year is still the best way to protect against the flu. The flu vaccine can reduce risk of illness and complications and prevent the spread of the virus, especially to infants younger than 6 months, who cannot be vaccinated.
Who Should Get Vaccinated?
The CDC urges people older than 6 months to get an influenza vaccine every year. It’s best to get a flu vaccine before the season begins. After vaccination, it takes about 2 weeks for the body to develop antibodies to provide protection. Flu season can begin in October or November, and it typically peaks in January or February. But it is never too late to get vaccinated during the flu season.
Vaccination is especially important for those at risk for flu complications, including the elderly, children, pregnant women, and individuals with certain medical conditions (including asthma, diabetes, or cardiovascular disease). Flu vaccination is available in different forms. The inactivated vaccine comes in an injectable form—the flu shot—and is approved for people 6 months and older. The live attenuated vaccine is administered intranasally (through the nose), and is approved for healthy people aged 2 to 49 years who are not pregnant.
What Are the Side Effects?
After getting flu vaccination, you may experience soreness or low-grade fever. If you had a flu shot, you might notice tenderness or swelling at the injection site. After the intranasal vaccine, people sometimes have slight nasal congestion.
Can I Get the Flu from the Flu Shot?
Unfortunately, many people shy away from getting the flu vaccine because of this common myth. The CDC says that because the injection contains an inactivated virus, it cannot cause the flu. While the nasal form of the vaccine does contain live viruses, they are very weak and cannot cause the flu either.
Who Should Not Be Vaccinated?
The CDC recommends that you should not be vaccinated without first consulting a doctor if:
- You have a severe allergy to chicken eggs
- You had a severe reaction to influenza vaccination in the past
- You have a history of Guillain-Barré syndrome (your doctor will determine whether the vaccine is right for you)
In addition to vaccination, preventive measures against the flu are easy and straightforward. The flu can be transmitted through the air when a sick person coughs or sneezes, by direct contact with an infected person, or through contact with contaminated objects. Routine hand-washing and covering your coughs and sneezes in your elbow or a tissue are critical steps against the transmission of the flu. Also avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth, because germs are easily spread this way.
If you do get the flu, your doctor may prescribe antiviral drugs to lessen the severity of the flu or to prevent complications. Also get plenty of rest and stay hydrated. If you are sick, stay home and limit exposure to others, especially if you have a fever.
Stay Informed, Stay Healthy
Knowing the facts about the flu and the flu vaccine and dispelling common myths can help you make informed decisions about your health. Remember, getting vaccinated annually is your best defense in combating the influenza virus. Talk with your doctor or pharmacist about what is best for your health.
Ms. Terrie is a clinical pharmacy writer based in Haymarket, Virginia.