The flu may often be thought of as a minor inconvenience, but it can be a life-threatening illness for children, pregnant women, seniors, and others who are at high risk for flu-related complications. Misinformation about the flu vaccine may keep some people from getting immunized. WVU Medicine primary care provider Amanda Katie Hill, MD, provides the facts about the flu shot to help you make an informed decision for you and your family.
MYTH: A flu shot can make you sick.
It’s not possible to get the flu from the vaccine. A flu shot contains dead flu virus cells or no virus at all. This vaccine helps your body recognize the flu so that when it comes into contact with the virus, it will know what to do. A flu shot can cause minor side effects, such as a low-grade fever, body aches, or soreness where the shot was given, but this is not the same thing as having the flu. Compared to flu symptoms, these minor side effects may be worth it.
MYTH: You don’t really need a flu vaccine every year.
The main reason you should be revaccinated each year is that the flu virus is constantly changing and evolving into new strains. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tries to figure out which flu strains will be the most prevalent and works with vaccine manufacturers to make the specific vaccine that will fight the predicted strains for the year. A flu shot takes about two weeks to become effective, so, ideally, you want to get it before there is a large outbreak in your community. We have already started to see cases of the flu, so now is the time to get a flu shot. The CDC recommends getting vaccinated by the end of October, but it’s still beneficial to get the vaccine through the end of the flu season (November-March).
MYTH: Pregnant women and children should not get a flu vaccine.
The vaccine is recommended for everyone ages six months and older. Getting a flu shot can reduce your risk of contracting the flu by at least 40 to 60 percent. Pregnant women and children are among those at high risk for developing flu-related complications. It’s especially important for pregnant women to be vaccinated as the vaccine not only protects the mother, but it also decreases the risk of the baby getting the flu for several months after birth.
MYTH: The flu shot doesn’t work for some people who get the flu anyway.
No vaccine is perfect, and the flu shot is formulated annually based on the influenza strains projected to be circulating. There is still a chance you may get the flu even if you were vaccinated. This illness tends to be milder than it would be without vaccination. Symptoms of the flu include body aches, severe fever, chills, fatigue, sore throat, and headache. You will often experience symptoms of the flu much more abruptly than with a cold. The flu can be contagious a day before you start showing symptoms and for almost a week after. It’s recommended that you stay home for 24 hours after you no longer have a fever. Since you may be able to spread the flu before you know you have it, getting a flu vaccine is critical.
Need a flu shot? Call 855-WVU-CARE to make an appointment with a primary care provider or visit a WVU Urgent Care location in Morgantown or Fairmont.