It’s that time again for your annual flu shot, and we’re here to clear up some of the misconceptions about this important vaccine as we head into sniffle season.
Contributed by Partick Zak, MD | Family Medicine, Brooklyn Health Center
What exactly is the flu?
The flu is a contagious respiratory illness that is caused by the influenza virus. It can infect the nose, throat and lungs. The flu usually starts spreading in the fall and peaks in the winter months, occasionally lasting until spring. Some people may experience fever, cough, sore throat, runny nose, muscle aches, headaches, fatigue and sometimes vomiting and diarrhea. The best way to prevent getting the flu is by getting a flu vaccine each year. Everyone 6 months and older should get the flu shot every season, especially those at higher risk.
Here are some common myths about the flu and the flu shot:
Myth: Flu shots don’t work because you can still get the flu.
Despite getting the flu shot, it is possible to catch a different strain of the flu. Every year, scientists do their best to predict which strains will be most common, creating a vaccine that targets up to four strains. Getting your flu shot can help reduce how severe your illness is and can help prevent you from becoming hospitalized if you do contract the flu.
Myth: The flu is not that serious. It’s just the common cold.
The common cold is caused by viruses such as rhinovirus, parainfluenza, etc. In general, the flu is worse than the common cold. Flu symptoms are more intense and begin more abruptly. People with colds are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose. The flu can cause serious complications such as sinus and ear infections, pneumonia and other complications that can lead to hospitalization and be life threatening.
COVID-19 is also different from the common cold. If you have symptoms that you find concerning, contact your health care provider.
Myth: The flu shot can cause the flu.
The flu shot contains either inactive virus or a small portion of virus that tells your body to make antibodies to fight against flu. Some people may feel under the weather after receiving the flu shot, which is a normal immune system response that generally lasts only a day or two.
Myth: If I am pregnant, I should not get the flu shot.
Getting the flu shot during pregnancy is safe. It helps protect you against the flu during your pregnancy. After pregnancy it helps protect your infant from the flu in their first few months of life.
Myth: I got the flu shot last year, so I don’t need it again this year.
It is important to get the flu shot every year. The vaccine becomes less effective after a year and only covers specific strains of the flu from last season.