Influenza is a common problem every winter. Here we discuss common misconceptions about the infection, the vaccinations, and treatment.
1) Flu is caused by cold weather
Influenza, or the flu does commonly occur during the winter months. However, you do not get influenza from not wearing a hat or scarf when it's cold outside. Influenza is spread by coming into contact with someone who is carrying the virus.
2) Flu vaccine causes influenza
One of the most common myths about influenza is that people commonly blame the vaccination for giving them the flu. The flu vaccine injection or shot is not a live vaccine, meaning it does not contain any virus particles that you could physiologically get sick from. The nasal vaccination can contain live virus, but in spite of that will not transmit influenza to healthy hosts.
3) Flu vaccine is not worth it.
Flu vaccine can cause some slight irritation at the site of the injection. It can also cause mild headache or low-grade fever after injection, but this is a normal and common problem after most vaccines as your body reacts and prepares antibodies to fight any future encounters with the virus. The flu that circulates each can be very different strains, but those who prepare the vaccines are aware of this and work hard to make sure that the vaccine that is being used each year is one that is applicable and will help prevent disease.
4) Flu vaccine only matters in the fall
Flu season, or the time which influenza is typically seen, actually lasts from October until May, with most cases often occurring in January or February. Therefore, getting a vaccination even in December can actually be very helpful at preventing disease. Also, there are typically two main types of virus circulating each year, so you can actually get the flu twice. The vaccine helps prevent against both of these.
5) I got a flu vaccine last year so I don't need another one.
Unfortunately, the particular strain of the flu that circulates each year can be very different. The protection that you got last year may not adequately protect from this year's illness. However, those who prepare the vaccines are aware of this and work hard to make sure that the vaccine that is being used each year is one that is applicable and will help prevent disease.
6) Healthy people do not need the vaccine
Children and elderly are most likely to develop complications, so the vaccination is very important for them to receive. However, most people can benefit from the vaccination. The vaccine should be avoided for children less than six months. Those who have had a severe allergic reaction or Guillain-Barre due to the vaccination should not get it again. Otherwise, your doctor can help make sure that the vaccine is safe for you. The vaccine is still safe to get during minor upper respiratory infections.
7) Influenza infection is not dangerous
Thankfully, most of the time people get influenza, they do not have negative complications from it. Because of this, most people think of the flu like a bad cold that will end soon. However, there are many negative complications that can frequently occur with influenza. These complications are typically the reasons that people end up in the hospital for flu and include things like pneumonia, otitis media, sinusitis, or dehydration. Each year, flu leads to 226,000 hospitalizations and up to 49,000 deaths.
8) Only the elderly have complications from flu
The most common complications due to flu actually occur in children each year. They have the highest numbers of patients who develop flu and thus most likely to develop complications. The elderly on the other hand, are more likely to have fatal complications due to influenza.
9) There is no way to diagnose the flu.
Flu infection can often be diagnosed based on physical examination and symptoms. If it is not clear, there are also several tests for flu available through nasal swab or blood test, depending on what is available for your physician or clinic.
10) There is no treatment for the flu.
Antibiotics cannot help fight the flu at all. However, there are antiviral medications designed specifically to fight the flu. These antivirals are most effective in the first 48 hours of illness, so it is important if you do think you have the flu to see your doctor when symptoms develop. They can help decrease the length of time of illness even if taken later in the course of symptoms.