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Flu season isn’t over. Here’s how to stay healthy.

This year’s flu is widespread and illness has been severe. According to health officials, it’s the worst flu season in a decade – and it’s not over yet. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a yearly flu vaccine as the most important step in avoiding the flu. The seasonal influenza vaccine is designed to protect against the three or four flu viruses that researchers predict will be circulating during flu season. It takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body that protects against flu. While the CDC recommends that people get a flu vaccine by the end of October, getting vaccinated later can still be beneficial – any protection is better than none. While vaccine effectiveness can vary, recent studies show that flu vaccination reduces the risk of flu illness by between 40% and 60% among the overall population during seasons when most circulating flu viruses are well-matched to the flu vaccine.

There’s no shortage of information circulating about the flu and flu vaccines, and it can be confusing — and conflicting. So, let’s set the record straight and discuss some myths surrounding the flu vaccine.

Myth #1: The flu vaccine will give you the flu.

 

False. The most common side effects of the flu vaccine are soreness, swelling and redness at the injection site, which usually lasts less than two days. If someone who has been immunized against the flu still gets the flu, the CDC says a few different things may have happened:

  • It’s not the flu, but another respiratory virus with similar symptoms. The flu vaccine only protects against influenza, not other illnesses.
  • If it is the flu, exposure may have happened shortly before the vaccination or within the two-week period after vaccination that your body needs to develop an immune response. This exposure may result in a person becoming ill with flu before protection from the vaccine takes effect.
  • If it is the flu, the person may have been infected with a different strain of the flu virus than what’s in the vaccine.
  • If someone is experiencing flu symptoms after being vaccinated, it may be because the flu vaccine varies in how well it works and some people who get vaccinated may still get sick.

For those who still get sick with the flu after being vaccinated, studies have shown their illness is likely milder, meaning they are less likely to be hospitalized or die.

Myth #2: I got the flu shot last year. I don’t need to get it again this year.

False. The CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccine for just about everyone over 6 months and older, even when the viruses the vaccine protects against have not changed since the previous season. The reason for this is that a person’s immune protection from vaccination declines over time, so an annual vaccination is needed to get the “optimal” or best protection against the flu. Additionally, flu vaccines protect against three or four different flu viruses.

Myth #3: I waited too late to get the flu vaccine, so it’s not effective.

False. While CDC recommends getting your yearly flu vaccine by the end of October, as long as the flu viruses are circulating there’s a benefit to receiving the shot. Seasonal flu outbreaks can happen as early as October, but the peak of flu season is usually between December and February, and flu activity has been seen to last as late as May. Since it takes about two weeks after vaccination for antibodies to develop in the body that protect against flu virus infection, it is best that people get vaccinated in time to be protected before flu viruses begin spreading in their community. Although immunity obtained from flu vaccination can vary by person, previously published studies suggest that immunity lasts through a full flu season for most people.

Myth #4: The stomach flu is the same as the flu virus.

 

This is also false. The flu is a respiratory disease and not a stomach or intestinal disease. Many people use the term “stomach flu” to describe illnesses with nausea, vomiting or diarrhea. Many different viruses, bacteria or even parasites can cause these symptoms. While vomiting, diarrhea, and being nauseous or “sick to your stomach” can sometimes be related to the flu — more commonly in children than adults — these problems are rarely the main symptoms of influenza.

To further protect yourself from the flu, take simple preventive actions to stop the spread of germs:

  • Try to avoid close contact with sick people.
  • While sick, limit contact with others as much as possible to keep from infecting them.
  • If you are sick with flu-like illness, CDC recommends that you stay home for at least 24 hours after your fever is gone except to get medical care or for other necessities. Your fever should be gone for 24 hours without the use of a fever-reducing medicine.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. Germs spread this way.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that may be contaminated with germs like the flu (the flu can live on surfaces for up to 8 hours).

To learn how BioIQ can help your organization launch a flu vaccination program, call (888) 818-1594 or email sales@bioiq.com.

RESOURCES
CDC: Misconceptions about Seasonal Flu and Flu Vaccines
CDC: Seasonal Influenza (Flu) > Information for Businesses and Employers
CDC: Selecting Viruses for the Seasonal Influenza Vaccine
Health.com: 10 Biggest Myths about the Flu 

The conclusions, findings, and opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the official position of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Public Health Service, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or the authors’ affiliated institutions.

Kristen Nichols HeitmanKristen Nichols Heitman, MPH, is an epidemiologist in the Rickettsial Zoonoses Branch in the Division of Vector-Borne Diseases in the National Center for Emerging Zoonotic and Infectious Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). She received a Master of Public Health (MPH) with a concentration in epidemiology from Georgia State University.

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