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Let’s Bust Some Flu Myths

Dr Retha J v Rensburg. June 2018

· Body and Health

The term "influenza" is from the Medieval Latin influentia (influence) and was coined back when medieval Italians believed the illness to be brought on by the influence of the stars. While that particular flu myth has been forgotten for a long time, doctors still do battle with other circulating myths about flu and its vaccine each season.

So let’s bust a few of those myths.

Myth

I got the flu vaccine years ago and it gave me flu, never again!

Truth

This is a popular myth that always seems to be around. It might be because getting the flu shot can make you feel temporarily icky. Flu shots cannot cause flu illness. The vaccine is made with flu vaccine viruses that have been ‘inactivated’ which means that it can’t transmit an infection. The influenza virus infects you 48 hours before you have any symptoms and the vaccine takes 10 days to work, so you may have been unlucky and caught the flu just before getting vaccinated. It was not the vaccine!

Some people do have mild reactions to flu vaccination.Your arm may feel a bit sore where you were injected, and some people get a slight temperature and aching muscles for a couple of days afterwards. We get this soreness most likely as the result of the body’s early immune response reacting to a foreign substance entering the body.

Myth

I had my flu vaccine and still get sick with flu symptoms, so it does not work.

Truth

There are several reasons why someone might get flu symptoms, even after they had their flu shot.

But if you really feel ill after getting the flu shot, you might have just picked up another bug—it is cold or flu season after all. There are lots and lots of respiratory viruses besides flu such as rhinoviruses. Rhinoviruses cause the common cold and flulike symptoms. They also spread and cause illness during the flu season. The flu vaccine only protects against influenza, not other illnesses.

Besides it takes your body two weeks after vaccination to develop antibodies to protect you from the flu. In this time or shortly before your flu shot it is possible to be exposed to influenza viruses. This means that your body did not yet developed antibodies to protect you from the flu and you may become ill with flu before protection from the vaccine takes effect.

Thirdly, you may have been exposed to a flu virus that is very different from the viruses the vaccine is designed to protect against. The ability of a flu vaccine to protect a person depends largely on how similar the viruses selected to make the vaccine was to those spreading and causing illness. There are many different flu viruses that spread and cause illness among people.

Finally, the flu vaccine can vary in how well it works and some people who get vaccinated may still get sick.

Myth

I’ve had the flu vaccine so I don’t need it again

Fact

Unfortunately influenza viruses are always changing and mutate each year. So they can vary from year to year. They can even change in the middle of a flu season. A new flu vaccine is formulated every year, so getting vaccinated each year is crucial to make sure you have immunity to the strains that can probably to cause an outbreak. This means that vaccine usually provides protection for the duration of that year's flu season.

Myth

The flu vaccine will stop me from catching a cold

Fact

No, it won’t. The flu vaccine protects you against flu viruses. Colds are caused by other less serious viruses such as rhinoviruses that are completely different from flu. You may still get winter colds after getting the flu vaccine, but you’re much less likely to get flu itself.

Myth

I take vitamin C and other vitamins so I am protected against flu

Truth

Many people think that taking daily vitamin C or other supplements will stop them getting flu, but according to the NHS there's no evidence to prove this.

Myth

Flu can be treated with antibiotics

Truth

Definitely not! Flu is caused by viruses. So there’s no point in asking your doctor for antibiotics. Antibiotics only work against bacteria. Your doctor may prescribe antiviral drugs like oseltamivir (Tamiflu) to treat your flu.

It is important to know that antivirals do not cure flu, but they can make you feel better faster as well as make you less infectious to others. For that matter they work best if you take them within 2 of your symptoms appearing, so be sure to ask your doctor about these meds ASAP if you think you have flu symptoms.

A bacterial infection may occur as a result of having the flu, in which case you may be given antibiotics.

Myth

I'm pregnant, so I may not have a flu shot as it will affect my baby

Truth

It is important to be vaccinated against flu no matter what stage of pregnancy you're in. If you're pregnant, you are at risk to get very ill if you get flu, which could also be bad for your baby.

Having a flu vaccination in pregnancy can also protect your baby for three months after birth.

Myth

Children can't have the flu vaccine

Truth

Yes, they can! In South Africa the flu vaccine is generally given as an injection to children from aged 6 months. The flu vaccine isn't suitable for babies under the age of 6 months.

Myth

You can catch the flu from going out in cold weather without a coat, with wet hair or by sitting near a drafty window.

Truth
Mom was wrong about this one. Going out with wet hair won’t increase your odds of getting the flu. (And neither will going out in the cold without a coat or shoes.) Flu season overlaps with the cold weather and people frequently associates the flu with cold, drafty surroundings. But they are not related at all. The only way to get the flu is by being exposed to and coming into contact with the influenza virus. It does not matter if you are hot, cold, warm or dry.

Myth

If I missed having the flu jab in April, it's too late to have it later in the year

Truth

It's definitely not too late. It's advantageous to have the flu vaccine as soon as it becomes available, typically in April, but it's always worth getting vaccinated after this; even if there have been flu outbreaks by this time.

Resources

1918 – South Africa’s death toll. [Available online] https://www.health24.com/Medical/Flu/The-1918-epidemic/1918-South-Africas-death-toll-20120721

http://www.dictionary.com/browse/influenza

Misconceptions about Seasonal Flu and Flu Vaccines [Available online] https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/qa/misconceptions.htm

10 myths about flu and the flu vaccine [Available online] https://www.nhs.uk/live-well/healthy-body/10-myths-about-flu-and-the-flu-vaccine/

This post is for informational purposes only. It should not be considered therapy.This blog is only for informational and educational purposes and should not be considered therapy or any form of treatment. We are not able to respond to specific questions or comments about personal situations, appropriate diagnosis or treatment, or otherwise provide any clinical opinions. If you think you need immediate assistance, call your local doctor/psychologist or psychiatrist or the SADAG Mental Health Line on 011 234 4837. If necessary, please phone the Suicide Crisis Line on 0800 567 567 or sms 31393.

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blog is only for informational and educational purposes and should not be considered therapy or any form of treatment. We are not able to respond to specific questions or comments about personal situations, appropriate diagnosis or treatment, or otherwise provide any clinical opinions. If you think you need immediate assistance, call your local doctor/psychologist or psychiatrist or the SADAG Mental health Line on 011 234 4837. If necessary, please phone the Suicide Crisis Line on 0800 567 567 or sms 31393.