The heavy jackets are out. The leaves are changing. Noses are running.
Fall has arrived, and so has the annual flu season. While flu, or influenza, is most serious for older Americans and people with certain chronic conditions, influenza can affect people of all ages. It can lead to hospitalizations, significant health complications and even death.
In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that the 2017-18 season was the worst in years, killing 80,000 Americans and sickening millions more. A typical flu season starts in October and continues into May, with the numbers of illnesses peaking between December and February.
Most people have likely had the flu at some point – with symptoms such as a constant cough, sore throat, a runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headaches and fatigue – yet many myths and misperceptions remain. If you’re unsure if the flu vaccine is right for you, you’re not alone. There’s a lot of confusion surrounding this vaccine, so here are six myths and facts that can help set the record straight.
Myth #1: Flu shots don’t really work.
Fact: The flu vaccine reduces the risk of contracting and spreading the disease by up to 60 percent, according to the CDC. The vaccine’s effectiveness depends on multiple factors – including the amount of time between vaccination and exposure to the disease, your age and health status. Yet studies show that the flu vaccination benefits public health, especially when the vaccine is well matched to that year’s circulating viruses.
Myth #2: I got vaccinated last year, so I should be good for this year, too.
Fact: The flu virus changes each year, so flu vaccines change as well. Plus, the body’s immune response to a flu vaccine declines over time, which means a yearly vaccination is the best option, according to the CDC.
Myth #3: I exercise and eat healthy, so I don’t need to get vaccinated.
Fact: It is true that being healthy may help you recover from illness more quickly, but it won’t prevent you from getting or spreading the flu virus. Even healthy people can be infected and spread the flu virus without showing symptoms.
Myth #4: The flu vaccine is only necessary for the old and very young.
Fact: The CDC recommends flu shots for everyone who is 6 months and older, ideally by the end of October. But, getting vaccinated later in the flu season – through January or even after – can still be more beneficial than not getting it at all. Starting early in the season is particularly important for children, because two doses of the vaccine, given at least four weeks apart, may be necessary.
Myth #5: The flu vaccine causes strong side effects.
Fact: The flu vaccine does not cause harmful side effects. Some may experience mild side effects, such as soreness, redness or swelling where the shot was given, a low-grade fever or minor aches, but these are typically short-lasting. You also don’t need to worry about changing your medication routine, because the vaccine doesn’t interact with other medications.
Myth #6: Getting the flu is not that serious.
Fact: The CDC reports that more than 200,000 people are hospitalized from flu complications each year, while tens of thousands die from it. Reducing the risk of flu is especially important for people who have certain medical conditions, such as asthma, diabetes or chronic lung disease; and for pregnant women, young children and people 65 and older. Even for people without those complications, flu symptoms can disrupt work, school or social life for several weeks or more.
Now is the time to get a flu vaccine, which is considered preventive and in most cases is covered through employer-sponsored, individual and Medicare and Medicaid health plans. Vaccines are available through primary care physicians and convenience care clinics. Visit the CDC website at cdc.gov/flu to search for a nearby care provider based on your zip code.