Influenza- Dispelling Myths

by Infection Preventionist/Risk Manager Angela Pagenkopf, RN

One hundred years ago the 1918 influenza pandemic devastated entire communities and took an estimated 675,000 American lives.  It was the most severe pandemic in recent history, sweeping the globe quickly and killing more than 50 million people across the world.

To this day, influenza poses one of the world’s greatest infectious disease challenges.  People may have little or no immunity to the influenza virus, so the consequences of a pandemic can be severe.

The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) is working to protect Americans and the global community from the threat of a future flu pandemic, which could overwhelm the U.S. health care system and cause a very high rate of death for even those who are currently healthy.  A yearly influenza vaccination for anyone 6 months of age or older is the first and most important step in protecting against this serious disease.

Now is a great time to receive the influenza vaccine.  The earlier you receive the flu shot, the sooner you will be protected.  It is also never too late to receive the influenza vaccine but you will not fully develop the antibodies and be protected against the virus for approximately 2 weeks after receiving the shot.

Many local pharmacies and clinics offer the vaccine.  Please check to see if an appointment is needed.

The Platteville Clinic at Southwest Health and the Cuba City Clinic at Epione Pavilion offer the vaccine to their patients. Call 608-348-4330 for an appointment in Platteville or 608-744-2767 in Cuba City.

The Grant County Health Department is offering the vaccine throughout the influenza season (usually through spring) any weekday from 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. for adults and for school-aged children October 29th thru November 27th.  No appointment is needed.

The Lafayette County Health Department is also offering the vaccine on Monday nights from 3-6pm throughout the month of October.  Please call ahead to set up an appointment.

Let’s dispel some typical myths about the influenza vaccination:

MYTH:   “I always get the flu from the flu shot.”
Fact: A flu shot will not give you the flu.  The influenza vaccination contains viral strains that have been inactivated, making it biologically impossible to cause the illness.  The most common side effect of the flu vaccine in adults is soreness at the spot where the shot was given, which usually lasts less than two days.  The soreness is often caused by a person’s immune system making protective antibodies to the killed viruses in the vaccine.  These antibodies are what allow the body to fight against the flu.  The needlestick itself may also cause some soreness.  Rare symptoms include fever, muscle pain and feelings of discomfort or sometimes weakness.  These symptoms are very uncommon, are caused by your immune response and usually begin soon after the shot and last 1 to 2 days.
Antibodies to the influenza virus can take up to two weeks to form.  If you are exposed to the influenza virus or another virus with similar symptoms within these two weeks, it is quite possible you may become ill.  You did not, however, “catch” the influenza virus from the flu shot.

MYTH: “Getting the flu helps me build a stronger immune system, so it’s to my benefit to catch it.”
Fact: According to the CDC, since 2012, influenza-related deaths are estimated to have ranged from 12,000 to 56,000.  Flu symptoms, (including a fever, headaches, sore throat, nasal congestion, cough, extreme tiredness and body aches) can disrupt your work, school and social life for up to two weeks.

MYTH: “I’m better off taking my chances and catching the flu than getting the vaccine.”
Fact: Being infected with the influenza virus also makes you a carrier of the illness.  The flu is highly contagious.  Symptoms begin one to four days after the virus enters the body.  It can be spread unknowingly to other unsuspecting people during this period, including those that are very vulnerable like babies, those with compromised immune systems, and the elderly.

MYTH: “I’m pregnant, and I shouldn’t get the vaccine while pregnant.”
Fact: Pregnant women are especially susceptible to becoming sick with the influenza virus.  Their immune systems are already challenged by the pregnancy.  The CDC recommends that pregnant women should receive the influenza vaccination at any point in their pregnancy to protect themselves and their babies from the flu for up to six months.

MYTH:   The influenza vaccine causes autism.
Fact: Studies have shown that there is no link between receiving vaccines and developing autism.

MYTH:   I am worried about the preservative “thimerosal” in the flu vaccine.  I don’t want to place preservatives in my body.
Fact:   Most single-dose vials of the influenza vaccine do not contain thimerosal.  You may ask your healthcare provider what type of vaccine they are administering prior to receiving the vaccination.

MYTH:   I got the flu vaccine, but I still got gastroentiritis (aka the stomach flu), so the vaccine must not have worked.
Fact:   The flu vaccine is not made to prevent the stomach flu, it is made to prevent the flu, which is more severe, with symptoms of fever, aches, chills, sneezing, cough and headache.

The CDC recommends the following chart to help you determine if the symptoms you are experiencing are most likely that of influenza or the common cold.  Get vaccinated today and stay healthy!

Signs and symptoms Influenza Cold
Symptom onset Abrupt Gradual
Fever Usual Rare
Aches Usual Slight
Chills Fairly common Uncommon
Fatigue/weakness Usual Sometimes
Sneezing Sometimes Common
Stuffy nose Sometimes Common
Sore throat Sometimes Common
Chest discomfort/cough Common Mild to moderate
Headache Common Rare

What should I do if I get sick?

If you get sick with flu symptoms, in most cases, you should stay home and avoid contact with other people except to get medical care.  If, however, you have symptoms of the flu and are in a high risk group, or are very sick or worried about your illness, contact your health care provider.

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