Flu Season: Myth Busters
What is really true about the flu and why you should get vaccinated.
Myth #1: The flu can be bad, but it's not life-threatening.
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The flu, also known as influenza, is a serious disease and it can be life threatening. In fact, the seasonal flu combined with pneumonia is among our nation's top ten leading causes of death. Each year hundreds of thousands of people in the U.S. are hospitalized due to influenza. Depending on the severity of the virus each season, 3,000 to 49,000 people die from flu complications every year.
Myth #2: The flu is only dangerous to the elderly; young people do not need the flu shot.
This is quite possibly the most common misconception about the influenza virus, however, the truth is that influenza affects everybody differently and can be dangerous regardless of one's age. In fact, children have the highest incidence of infection by the influenza virus. Although, flu-related death is most common among the elderly: approximately 90% of influenza related deaths occur among people ages 65 and older. People with medical disease such as asthma, diabetes, and chronic lung disease are in a high-risk category for serious flu complications. Pregnant women and care-givers are strongly encouraged to obtain vaccinations to prevent from spreading the virus to others. Still, everyone ages 6 months and older should get a flu shot every season.
Myth #3: You can get the flu from a seasonal influenza vaccination or "flu shot".
Medical experts are perplexed that people believe this myth. In reality, it is impossible to get the flu as a result of vaccination. The virus in the flu shot is completely inactivated; therefore, the virus is dead and cannot infect you. The nasal spray vaccine, "FluMist", does contain an accentuated live virus. In this case, however, the virus is deliberately weakened and specifically engineered to remove components that cause infection and make people sick. Coincidentally, some people will get influenza just after receiving their vaccine. This is because the effects of the vaccination take about 2 weeks to kick in. Once antibodies build up in the body they will mitigate an existing virus and prevent further infection.
Myth #4: The stomach flu is a type of influenza.
The term "flu" is used loosely in society today. We sometimes refer to gastrointestinal viruses as the "stomach flu" however this type of illness is generally unrelated to the influenza virus. Children may experience some stomach upset with influenza. Vomiting and diarrhea have also been characteristic of the swine flu. Though typically, influenza causes symptoms like sore throat, coughing, congestion, chills, body aches and fever; upset stomach is rare for adults.
Myth #5: There is no need to get vaccinated if…1) you've already been sick 2) it's too late in the season.
The influenza virus is not the chicken pox. If you have already been sick with the flu, there is still a possibility of contracting the virus again. The influenza virus comes in many forms and is always changing. (That's why it is recommended you get vaccinated every year). Even if you have experienced flu-like symptoms this season, it is in your best interest to get vaccinated to prevent another infection and minimize the spread of the virus to others.
Moreover, it is never too late to get a flu shot. Though, it is best to obtain your shot early in the flu season (September), vaccines are usually available through December and January. It is important to immunize yourself because sometimes flu season doesn't peak until February or March.
Flu vaccinations are currently available in both the shot and nasal spray forms. You can obtain free vaccinations at any pharmacy in your area. For a complete list of locations, times, and offers visit The Flu Vaccine Finder online at http://flushot.healthmap.org.
Daniel Shiba, M.D. is a family medical practitioner and a member of the Advocate Medical Group. He studied at the University of Illinois, Chicago, in the College of Medicine and performed his residency with Advocate Lutheran General Hospital. Dr. Shiba has an office location in Algonquin at 2284 W. County Line Road, Algonquin, IL 60102. For more information or to schedule an appointment with Dr. Shiba, call (800) 3ADVOCATE (800) 323-8622.