Metro-East News

Worried about getting a flu shot? This health care group wants to dispel the rumors.

No, you can’t get the flu from the flu shot.

That’s the biggest misconception about the influenza vaccine, according to Southern Illinois Healthcare Foundation, and one of the most dangerous as we head into the season of flu shots literally available at every corner drugstore.

The flu vaccine cannot cause the flu, because the injection contains an inactive virus or no virus at all. It does stimulate an immune response, so the patient may be sore, with muscle aches and headaches, but it is not the same as actually having the flu. The symptoms may last for a day or two, but are much less severe than actual influenza, according to the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases.

Flu shots are available at clinics throughout the St. Louis area.

Other misconceptions about the flu vaccine include:

▪ “I don’t need a flu shot because I had one last year.” The federal Centers for Disease Control recommends an annual shot for most people over the age of 6 months. Immunity can decline, and the flu is one of those viruses that shifts on a regular basis. You also don’t need more than one per year — a double vaccination will not give you added immunity, unless it is recommended by your doctor.

▪ “I don’t need a flu shot because I’m healthy.” Anyone can get the flu, even young, health people. Vaccination is important regardless, according to the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, especially since you can spread the flu to other people who may not be as healthy.

▪ “I’ve had the stomach flu, it’s not that bad.” What we call the stomach flu is not influenza. The phrase “stomach flu” is a phrase we have come to use for a general nausea, vomiting or diarrhea ailment that has nothing to do with the influenza virus. It may be caused by food poisoning, bacteria, a parasite or other delightful fun, but it isn’t the flu.

Influenza is a respiratory disease characterized by fever, chills, cough, sore throat, stuffy nose, body aches and fatigue. People with the common cold are more likely to have nasal congestion than people with the flu, though the symptoms can often mimic each other. A diagnostic test conducted in the first few days of illness can tell if the person has an ordinary cold or the flu.

▪ “I’m pregnant, so I shouldn’t get the flu shot.” There is no recommendation that pregnant women should skip the flu vaccine. Some people are recommended to skip it, including people with certain severe illness or a history of Guillain-Barre Syndrome. If you have concerns about a preexisting condition and the flu shot, talk to your doctor.

▪ “There’s no big deal about the flu.” Many people who get influenza may be better in several days up to two weeks. But unlike the common cold or “stomach flu,” influenza can make you severely ill. Young children, senior citizens, pregnant women and people with chronic illness or compromised immune systems are at high risk of serious flu complications - and if you’re carrying the flu around, you can infect others who may not have your resistance, including babies too young to get the vaccine. You can also infect others before you even know you’re sick, so your vaccination is protecting others around you.

Serious complications can include inflammation of the heart or brain, multi-organ failure, sepsis or severe pneumonia. Tens of thousands of people die every year of complications from influenza, according to the CDC.

Elizabeth Donald: 618-239-2507, @BNDedonald

Influenza Facts

  • Last year, 46.8 percent of the U.S. population over the age of 6 months was vaccinated, despite the widespread availability of low-cost flu vaccines. Those numbers have remained mostly stagnant for the last several years, even with some decreases in past years among senior citizens, according to the National Foundation of Infectious Diseases.
  • African-American, Hispanic, Asian and Native American children have a higher vaccination rate than non-Hispanic white children. The highest rate was among children age 6 months to 2 years old, at 7.3 percent it was the only group that exceeded the national public health goal of 70 percent coverage.
  • Illinois had a vaccination rate of barely over 41 percent, one of the lowest rates in the nation. The lowest was Nevada at 36 percent; highest was Rhode Island at 55 percent.
  • In the 2015-16 season, the CDC estimates that 310,000 were hospitalized for illnesses related to influenza. Deaths range from 12,000 in 2011-12 to 56,000 deaths in the 2012-13 season.
  • Want to find out where the flu shot is available near you? Go to www.cdc.gov/flu and look for the Flu Shot Finder on the right side. Most drugstore chains such as Walgreens, CVS and MedExpress will carry the shot, as will some large retailers such as Sam’s Club, Target, grocery stores and more. Shots are also available at local health departments, private doctors, and Southern Illinois Healthcare Foundation.

Sources: National Foundation of Infectious Diseases, Centers for Disease Control, Southern Illinois Healthcare Foundation.

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