Busting 4 common myths about the flu shot
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It’s that time of year again.
Flu season is around the corner, the flu shot has just come out.
Every year, I ask my patients to get the flu shot, and every year, many of them have the same set of questions and concerns.
So let’s tackle some of the most common myths that are out there.
MYTH 1: “The flu shot can give me the flu.”
I hear this from patients all the time.
But the fact is that studies have shown that people getting the flu vaccine and those getting a placebo shot have the same chance of having a febrile illness after the shot.
The bottom line is that colds are common at this time of year, so if you happen to get a cold after your flu shot, it has nothing to do with the vaccine itself.
MYTH 2: “I got the flu shot but I still got a cold — so the shot didn’t work.”
The flu is a very specific respiratory illness caused by influenza A or B viruses, usually associated with high fever along with severe body aches and fatigue, which is much worse than the common cold. And that’s what the flu shot protects against.
So you might still get a cold, but the flu shot will reduce your chances of getting the actual flu.
It doesn’t work 100 per cent of the time (because the flu virus mutates every year), but even if you do get the flu, having had the shot will usually make the infection less severe.
MYTH 3: “The flu shot has dangerous side effects.”
About two thirds of people will get sore at the injection site, and a small percentage can briefly get eye irritation and a cough and/or wheeze.
Very rarely (in one or two cases out of each million), we see a neurological complication called Guillain-Barre Syndrome, which causes weakness of the hands and feet.
But this is actually seen much more commonly after getting the flu itself, so overall, the shot still protects against it.
MYTH 4: “I’m healthy, so I don’t need the flu shot.”
We used to recommend the flu shot only in people over the age of 65 and those with specific medical conditions, but we now recommend it for everyone. And there are two reasons for that.
The first is that anyone can get the flu – and even a perfectly healthy person can get very sick with the flu.
Which brings us to the second reason – which is that widespread immunization leads to herd immunity, which prevents healthy people from spreading it to people who are at a higher risk of complications, including kids under the age of two, the elderly, pregnant women and people with weak immune systems.
On average, the flu shot saves about 300 lives a year in Ontario alone.
So if you don’t want to get the flu shot for you, do it for your loved one or even for the perfect stranger whose life you might save by getting it.
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