As a doctor, I feel as if I’m always running behind during flu season. Why? Not only do I have more fit-ins to see sick, fevered, flu-stricken patients, I also spend a lot of time counselling patients about the benefits and true risks of the flu shot.
In the end, it’s your decision whether or not you get your shot, but it’s my job as a doctor to ensure you have all the information you need to make an informed choice. So, here are the facts and myths about the ever-controversial flu shot.
Myth #1: You can get the flu from the flu shot. This is absolutely false. The flu shot is made from either an inactivated virus or no virus whatsoever, which means you will not get the flu from the flu shot. Rarely, people may experience a low-grade fever or feeling achy for a day or two, but these symptoms are nothing compared to having the flu itself. In studies comparing the flu-shot to a salt-water injection, the only difference in reported side effects was some increased redness and swelling at the injection site for flu-shot takers.
Myth #2: I’ve never had the flu shot, and I’ve never had the flu: I don’t need it. I equate this myth to wearing a seatbelt. You’ve probably driven a car many times and never been in a car accident; however, you still always wear your seatbelt. You may have been lucky enough thus far and never had the flu, but you should still protect yourself. Don’t be cavalier — the flu can affect anyone. This season, it could be you.
Myth #3: I’ve had the flu. I threw up couple of times and was better the next day. There’s a lot of misinformation out there about what “the flu” actually is. It is not vomiting and having diarrhea for a couple of days — though this is often (incorrectly) referred to as “the stomach flu”. The flu is, in fact, influenza: a viral illness that causes a typical triad of symptoms of cough, muscle aches and fevers. People are miserable when they have the flu, and symptoms can last for up to two weeks.
Myth #4: It’s safer to develop my immunity naturally. Many people can fight the flu on their own; however, it is not without complications. The flu can cause ear and sinus infections, pneumonia and even septic shock, requiring hospitalization or admission to in an intensive care unit. Sadly, people still die from the flu every year. Those at highest risk for complications include the elderly, children under the age of five, pregnant women, and those with respiratory conditions such as asthma, COPD, or immune compromise. If you fall into one of these categories, or you live with, visit, or care for someone at high risk, getting your flu shot means protecting them, too.
Myth #5: The flu shot doesn’t work. They never get it right. I look at the flu shot as an insurance policy. Sure, you’re never going to be protected 100%, but if it even provides partial protection — why not. Plus, it’s free! Every year, the flu vaccine is developed to fight the most common strains of flu predicted to rear their heads in fall and winter. Over the past 10 years, with the exception of the 2014-15 flu season, the flu vaccine has decreased the population’s risk of influenza by 40-50%. The flu shot has decreased flu-related death in children by 51-65%.
Now that you know the risks and we’ve busted the myths about the flu shot, make plans to get your annual flu shot. Unfortunately, you can’t win the prize for loudest scream during flu vaccination this year — my son already claimed that one.