At this time every year, patients come to our office with questions and concerns about the flu shot. The most frequently asked questions is, “Can the flu shot give me the flu?” As you are about to learn, the answer is NO! In fact, in well-designed scientific studies, where some people get flu shots and others get salt-water shots, the only difference in symptoms was increased soreness in the arm and redness at the injection site among people who got the flu shot. There were no differences in terms of body aches, fever, cough, runny nose or sore throat.
Common Flu Myths:
1) You can catch the flu from flu vaccine: While many people may feel a bit lousy after a flu shot, it is not Influenza. There is a certain amount of normal and expected reaction that occurs after any vaccination. This is the body responding appropriately to the vaccine and building antibodies to prevent future infection. Of the 2 types of flu vaccine, neither injects the influenza virus that is seen in the environment. The live attenuated vaccine contains weakened virus designed to stimulate the immune system with virus strains that are expected to be in the community during influenza season, but in a much weakened form. While people with impaired immune systems should not receive this vaccine, it is safe in individuals with normal immune systems. The inactivated vaccine contains no infectious virus; it is inactivated. As such, these types of vaccines do not cause influenza and are able to stimulate a protective immune response.
2) It’s too late to get the flu shot this year: Influenza typically peaks after the New Year and runs into the spring in the Northern Hemisphere. Receiving vaccine in December will still provide a good deal of protection. However, it’s a good idea to get vaccinated as soon as the vaccine is available in early fall.
3) Healthy people don’t need to get vaccinated: While individuals with chronic illnesses and the elderly are at higher risk for influenza, healthy people can get sick as well. Additionally, those who are healthy and unvaccinated can spread the disease to those around them if they do get sick with influenza. Healthy people should get vaccinated.
4) You don’t need to get a flu shot every year: Due to the potential for strain change (the specific types of influenza virus circulating in a particular year) vaccination with the most current vaccine is necessary. Additionally, an individual’s immune response, and thus protection, may not last long enough to protect over two seasons even if the strains are unchanged. To be certain you have the maximum protection, an annual flu shot is recommended.
5) Once I have the flu I don’t need to get vaccinated: While having a true case of influenza may protect you from that strain in that particular year, there are many different types of influenza in circulation. You will still be susceptible to any of the other strains despite your illness. You should still be vaccinated. However, vaccination should occur when you are well.
Visit your doctor regularly and listen to your body.
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This article is not intended as a substitute for medical treatment. If you have questions related to your medical condition, please contact your family physician. For further inquires related to this topic email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Paul J. Mackarey PT, DHSc, OCS is a Doctor in Health Sciences specializing in orthopaedic and sports physical therapy. Dr. Mackarey is in private practice and is an associate professor of clinical medicine at GCSOM.