(ARA) – It’s that time of year again – flu season. The weather is turning colder and the sweaters are coming out of the closet, along with the sniffles, coughing, sneezing, sore throat and muscle aches. The seasonal flu, which is also known as influenza, is not the same as a head cold, and should not be taken lightly. In fact, the Center for Disease Control estimates that the flu affects anywhere from 5 to 20 percent of the U.S. population each year, and that approximately 200,000 people are hospitalized each year due to flu-related complications.
How can you separate fact from fiction about the flu, and protect yourself and your family? Everest College’s nursing instructors bust some common, flu-related myths to set the record straight.
Fact or fiction: The flu vaccine can cause the flu.
“This is a complete myth. And it is a dangerous one to spread. The No. 1 most important thing that you can do to prevent the flu and flu-related complications is to get the flu vaccine each year,” says Orvella Bradford, a licensed vocational nurse and vocational nursing instructor at Everest College in Anaheim, Calif.
There are many strains of flu viruses, but the flu vaccine protects against the three most prevalent strains each year. There are two common ways of receiving the flu vaccine – the seasonal shot and a nasal spray. The seasonal shot is recommended for most individuals over 6 months old and contains an inactivated form of the vaccine, which cannot make you sick.
The nasal spray, which contains a live, but very weak strain of the flu, is recommended for healthy individuals, ages 2 to 49.
“Although I strongly recommend getting the flu vaccine, it is important to recognize that the flu vaccine is not intended for everyone, particularly individuals with severe allergic reactions to eggs. It is important to talk to your doctor if you are concerned about the potential side effects from the vaccine,” says Bradford.
Fact or fiction: I got the flu vaccine last year, so I don’t have to worry this year.
The influenza virus that causes the flu is constantly evolving, and the most common strains of the virus can change from year to year.
“Even if you got the flu vaccine last year, you are still at risk for getting it again this year, so it is important to get a flu shot once each season,” says Bradford.
Fact or fiction: I’m a healthy adult. I can fight the flu off on my own, so I don’t need a flu shot.
Even if you are a healthy adult, if you contract the flu then you can start spreading the virus up to a full day before you exhibit symptoms, and for five to seven days afterwards.
“This means that even if you are healthy enough to fight off the flu on your own, you could be putting others at risk of infection without even realizing it. This is why we recommend the flu vaccine for everyone who is able to take it,” says Bradford.
Fact or fiction: I can wait to get the flu vaccine.
In fact, the timing of flu season is unpredictable – it can come as early as October or as late as May. The most common months for flu season are January and February, but everyone is encouraged to get a flu shot as soon as it becomes available in their area.
“We never know when the flu will hit – it could come early this year. It takes about two weeks for the vaccine to take effect, so don’t wait until it’s too late to get the vaccine,” says Critical Care Registered Nurse Jan Adams, a nursing instructor at Everest University in Brandon, Fla. Getting a flu shot before December is highly recommended to help you avoid the peak flu season.
In addition, many locations can run low on vaccinations periodically throughout the flu season due to the difficulties in manufacturing and distributing the high volume of vaccinations needed each year. “This means that it is important to act early – getting the vaccine when it is available and convenient for you will help you avoid a last-minute search for the vaccine,” says Adams.