As A Doctor, These 5 Flu Myths Make Me Shake My Head

By Dr. Mary Vearncombe, Associate Microbiologist and Medical Director of Infection Prevention and Control at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre

The cooler weather brings us together; we’re more often inside crowded malls and office towers… and then flu season arrives.

To the healthy individual, the term “flu season” may sound abstract, perhaps irrelevant. But the flu, or influenza, kills about 3,500 Canadians every year and causes about 12,200 of us to be hospitalized due to the illness itself or related complications.

Below are five of the top flu misconceptions you may hear people talk about this season, and how you can stay informed:

1. “It’s really just a bad cold.”
The flu is not “just a bad cold.” Generally, people who have come down with the flu will say they’ve been “hit” with the flu — and that’s no exaggeration. Knowing the difference can make all the difference for everyone.

2. “I don’t need the vaccine. I never get the flu. Even if I were to get it, I’d get through it.”
Chances are this individual, if healthy and hit with the virus, would likely recover with no complications. They would also likely spend time with family, relatives and friends — social circles that include the two most flu-vulnerable groups: the very old and the very young. Transmission from an infected individual can cause serious complications and result in hospitalization for these vulnerable groups.

3. “I’ve got too much work. I’ve got to come in. And besides… it’s just a bad cold.” (see #1)
Good work ethic is admirable and important, but the health of an individual and those around him/her is also important. Have a co-worker who’s got chills/high fever? Aches and pains? Persistent cough? Best to advise this individual to head home.

4. “I’ve heard of people getting the flu from the vaccine.”
The flu vaccine contains killed strains of the virus. People often associate the vaccine with a slight chill, sore arm and not feeling 100 per cent. That’s not because they are coming down with the flu; it’s because they are experiencing an immune response. And that’s a good thing.

The sore arm, however, is from the needle — and for those with a quiet fear of needles, there is an effective, needle-free nasal spray vaccine option. This option contains live virus which may result in a stronger immune response, and is not recommended for older or very young individuals, nor individuals with pre-existing medical conditions or weakened immunity.

No one can get the flu from the vaccine. But an individual can still get the flu even after getting the vaccine (see #5, second bullet). However, evidence shows that being armed with the vaccine results in a less severe hit, should you get the flu.

5. “The flu vaccine doesn’t work, anyway.”
Every year, the vaccine covers three strains of the flu virus. Last year’s vaccine protected against the H1N1 strain and the B strain. The vaccine also had an H3N2 strain, but it mutated. That new form, as it turns out, became the predominant strain in the community.

The H3N2 strain in this year’s vaccine has been updated to reflect what has been circulating over the last year.

Don’t discount the flu vaccine, based on last year’s
The flu vaccine provides 60 per cent protection against the flu
Do think of it as a 60 per cent discount taken off the flu’s contagiousness — to you

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