This year marks the centennial of a worldwide flu pandemic that sickened more about 500 million people, of whom 50 million died, including 675,000 Americans. Despite the totality of the pandemic, what many more found shocking was the amount of victims who were young (between the ages of 20-40) and otherwise healthy. After all, this was in the midst of World War I as if there wasn’t enough death and destruction in the world.
Today, the flu can be prevented or at least mitigated with a simple flu vaccine. However, many people worry that the vaccine is not safe, or that it, in fact, causes the flu. Before you consider avoiding your annual flu shot to take your chances with the flu, here are some myths, debunked, that may help you reconsider your decision.
Myth: The flu shot contains mercury.
Busted: Thimerosal – the mercury-derived preservative sometimes used in the vaccine – is not the kind of same kind of mercury that is used in thermometers or may contaminate the fish we consume. If you are concerned about mercury poisoning, rest assured you are safe if you get the flu vaccine.
Myth: Vaccines, including the flu shot, cause autism in children.
Busted: The theory that vaccinations are wholly or in part responsible for autism in children, was originally posited in the alte-1990s by a highly respected, peer-reviewed medical journal, The Lancet, but was later retracted in what the National Institutes of Health called “…one of the most serious frauds in medical history.” Not only did this bold fabrication by a once respected physician cast doubt on legitimate medical research, the hysteria that resulted led to the “anti-vax” movement that was responsible for more than 10,000 preventable deaths due to skipped vaccinations. Two decades later, people are still wary of vaccinations even though there has been no substantive proof that vaccinations cause autism. What doctors are more concerned with is that people will opt out of vaccinations, putting them at risk for contracting the actual disease.
Myth: The flu shot actually causes the flu.
One widely spread falsehood regarding the flu shot is that the shot itself causes the flu. While you are injected with a strain of the virus, it is inactivated – meaning it’s incapable of transmitting the infection. Because it can take a couple of weeks for the shot to get into your system, some people contract the flu in the interim, assuming cause and effect. Plus, other respiratory viruses such as rhinoviruses possess similar symptoms to the flu and often occur at the same time of year.
Myth: You can’t get the flu shot if you have an egg allergy.
Different pharmaceutical companies use one of three techniques to develop their flu vaccine – egg-based, cell-based, and recombinant flu vaccines. Of the three, egg-based is the most common in both flu shots and nasal spray flu vaccines, therefore the flu vaccine you receive most likely will contain a trace of egg protein such as ovalbumin. Because the trace is just that, the vaccine is considered safe for those with egg allergies, with the odds of having a severe reaction being less than two people for every million vaccine doses administered. However, there are specific guidelines for the allergy-prone, and any flu vaccine should be administered under the supervision of a health care provider who is trained to address extreme allergic responses. As always, it’s best to consult your physician for more guidance based on your specific health issues.
Myth: Pregnant women should not receive the flu shot.
Busted: The flu vaccine reduces a mother-to-be’s risk of getting flu-associated acute respiratory infections, plus, since pregnant women pass antibodies onto their baby in-utero, the vaccine will also protect her baby from getting the flu up to several months after her baby is born. This is especially important since babies under 6 months of age cannot get the flu vaccine.
Myth: It doesn’t matter when I get the flu shot.
Busted: When it comes to preventive care, earlier is better. The CDC recommends you receive your flu shot before the end of October to give the immunization adequate time to protect you before the height of flu season. However, if December rolls around and you haven’t gotten around to it, it’s better late than never. While flu season typically peaks between the months of December and March, worse seasons can linger on through May.
Myth: The flu shot is the only preventive care I need this flu season.
Busted: A common misconception is that the flu is a “magic” cure-all; instead it protects you in tandem with other health preventive measures. Choose a multidisciplinary approach toward staying germ-free this season by also practicing proper hand washing, avoiding those who have the flu, getting rest and eating healthy, and covering your mouth while in crowded areas.
In the United States alone, 36,000 people die and more than 200,000 are hospitalized each year due to the illness. Unfortunately, myths and hearsay spread as quickly as the flu virus. Keep in the CDC recommends annual influenza vaccinations for everyone age 6 months or older; this is especially true for the elderly, pregnant women, and young children who are all more prone to contracting the flu.
Your best defense for warding off this serious sickness is getting your yearly flu shot and practicing good hygiene. The friendly staff at SC Internal Medicine Associates and Rehabilitation, LLC welcomes your call and looks forward to serving you. If you have any questions about our medical services, please call our office at (803) 749-1111. To schedule an appointment, you can call or use our secure online appointment request form.