Navigate to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website, and in heavy bold letters at perfect eye level are these words, “The single best way to protect against the flu is to get vaccinated each year.”
Flu shots are one of the most effective and least expensive preventative health measures available. They are recommended for anyone over the age of six months.
Influenza is a serious illness that can lead to death, especially in certain “at-risk” populations. These include the elderly and children under age five, pregnant women and those with certain medical conditions such as asthma, diabetes and chronic lung disease.
About two weeks after a flu vaccination, antibodies develop in the body. These antibodies provide protection against infection from the viruses that are in the vaccine. Because flu viruses constantly are changing, the seasonal vaccine protects against the influenza viruses that research indicates will be most common during the upcoming season.
The ability of a flu vaccine to protect a person depends on various factors, including the age and health status of the person being vaccinated, and also the similarity or “match” between the viruses used to make the vaccine and those circulating in the community. It’s important to remember that even when the viruses are not closely matched, the vaccine still can protect many people and prevent or minimize flu-related complications.
Flu symptoms are similar to those of the common cold, but generally progress to a much worse level. Marked by high fever, severe body aches, extreme tiredness and a dry cough, the flu can lead to bacterial infections, pneumonia and hospitalization. Colds are milder than the flu and usually include nose congestion. If you are sick but can continue going about your daily tasks, you most likely have a cold. If you are hurting too much to get out of bed, it probably is the flu.
Separating flu myths from flu facts are as difficult as fighting the virus itself. With the help of the CDC, here are some facts to set myths straight.
- MYTH: The seasonal flu is annoying but harmless. FACT: Each year anywhere from 3,000 to 49,000 people die from the flu and 200,000 people are hospitalized. A bout with the flu is a serious ordeal.
- MYTH: You can get the flu from a flu vaccination. FACT: The influenza viruses contained in a flu shot are dead viruses, meaning they cannot cause infection. For most people the only side effect is a slightly sore arm. The CDC no longer recommends the nasal spray as a vaccine option.
- MYTH: I should wait as long as possible to get my vaccine because it won’t last through the season. FACT: The CDC recommends that influenza vaccinations begin as soon as flu vaccines become available. The flu season is unpredictable, and since it takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body, it is best that people get vaccinated early so they are protected before influenza begins spreading in their community. The protection will extend through one flu season.
- MYTH: You can get the flu only once each season. FACT: In any flu season, there’s usually both Type A and Type B influenza in circulation. It’s quite possible that you could get infected with one type and then the other.
Flu vaccines are available throughout the winter months, and it can still be protective to get vaccinated in December or later. Influenza is unpredictable, and seasons can vary. In most years, influenza usually peaks in January or February.
No matter the month, the myth or the excuse, if you haven’t had your flu vaccine yet, go get it. You could spare yourself and others a lot of misery.
This article was written by Karan Summitt. Karan is a Community Health Educator and an Employee Health Coach at St. Bernards Medical Center. She holds a bachelor’s degree in family and consumer sciences from Harding University in Searcy and has extensive training and experience in weight loss and healthy lifestyle management, with emphasis on healthcare needs of seniors. She submits a weekly lifestyle “column to The Jonesboro Sun entitled “The Diet Gal” and also writes a “Successful Aging” column for the magazine NEA Seniors.