Flu season is well under way, and it's hitting Massachusetts particularly hard. Boston declared a public health emergency because of influenza last week. Hospitals are seeing a huge spike in flu patients and public health officials are urging us all to get vaccinated. Nearly everyone ages 6 months and up should get vaccinated.
Influenza generally runs from October through April in the United States, but peaks in January and February. Here, Dennis Cunningham, M.D., a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, addresses what he says are long-held myths about the flu vaccine:
• Myth: You can actually catch the flu from the flu vaccine.
This simply isn’t true. The vaccine can give you some mild symptoms, you may feel a bit achy for a day or two and your arm may be a little tender where you first get the shot, but this just means that your body is responding appropriately to the vaccine. Don’t confuse a few slight symptoms with the actual flu. With true influenza, you’d be sick and in bed for a week with high fever.
• Myth: You should wait until it’s cold outside to get your flu vaccine.
Some people worry that if you get the vaccine too soon, it will wear off by the time winter gets here. The truth is that vaccinating people even in August will protect them throughout the entire flu season. This includes the elderly, who typically are more vulnerable to effects of the flu.
• Myth: The flu is only spread by sneezing.
Germs are pretty easy to pass around and flu is really contagious. It’s very easy for one child to give it to another child (and not just by sneezing). The next thing you know, that child brings it home.
This is why it’s especially important for children to get the flu shot. Children are around so many people – from siblings, parents and grandparents to peers, teachers, childcare providers and other adults – they’re really the biggest carriers of the flu. Vaccinating kids can protect a wide range of people.
• Myth: Flu vaccines do not protect you from current strains.
The World Health Organization and the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention pick the strains that they believe are most likely to circulate in the coming months so that people are protected against everything that may go around. Every year, there are two A strains and one B strain of influenza included in the vaccine.
Learn more about this year’s flu strains, symptoms and prevention strategies at www.cdc.gov/flu.