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Ask a Doc: Dispelling flu myths
by David C. Cope, M.D.
Nov 16, 2010 | 2506 views | 0 0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
David C. Cope, M.D.
David C. Cope, M.D.
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As the “flu” season approaches, it seems there is growing sentiment against vaccination for the influenza virus. This raises grave concern about what impact the flu season will have on the citizens of northern Utah.

Central to this negative sentiment seems to be an excess of false beliefs, misconceptions, or myths about the vaccine and the disease itself.

MYTH: “I don’t want to risk getting the flu from the flu shot.” TRUTH: You cannot get the flu from the flu shot. PERIOD. The tiny protein particles and preservatives in the vaccine are dead and inactive and absolutely cannot transmit live virus to one who gets the vaccine or to others. Sometimes, there are minor reactions to these particles with aches, pains, or stomach upset, but this isn’t influenza infection and the symptoms won’t last long.

MYTH: “So many people died in the olden days with flu outbreaks because modern medicine wasn’t around to take care of them.”

TRUTH: A flu outbreak anywhere near the magnitude of historical outbreaks would rapidly and completely overwhelm any advantage modern medical care has to offer. If the population resorts to treating flu illness rather than preventing it with vaccinations, millions of people would likely die and many more millions would be devastatingly sick. MYTH: “I just had a bout of diarrhea, vomiting and stomach pain, so I don’t need the flu shot since I had the flu”

“Stomach flu” is a completely different disease caused by completely different viruses. The flu vaccine doesn’t protect from these non-influenza viruses. True influenza A or B (the flu) causes intense aches and pains, cough, sweats, high fevers, and sore throat. While vomiting, diarrhea, and being nauseous or “sick to your stomach” can sometimes be related to the flu, these problems are rarely the main symptoms of influenza. Influenza, or the flu, is a respiratory disease and not a stomach or intestinal disease. You should still get the flu vaccine if you’ve had the stomach flu.

MYTH: “I’ll skip the flu shot and just get antibiotics if I get the flu.”

TRUTH: Virtually all antibiotics available are for bacteria and not for viruses. There are a few antiviral medications that are partly effective, but the resistance to these medications from the influenza virus is high and getting higher. They also don’t kill the virus; they only partially stop it from replicating or reproducing.

MYTH: “If I get the flu shot in August, I’m worried it will wear off and I’ll get the flu later in the season.”

TRUTH: The reason for needing a new flu vaccine every year isn’t because of weakening immunity through the season, it is because the virus changes from year to year. Sometimes it changes dramatically and sometimes just minor changes occur. Either way, it requires a new vaccine to match those changes. A flu vaccine given as soon as the vaccine is available in the fall is effective through that entire flu season and does not need to be repeated.

MYTH: “I am young and healthy. I don’t need the flu shot, because if I get the flu, I’ll just fight through it.”

TRUTH: The flu kills thousands and thousands of young healthy people every year. If you don’t get it for yourself, get it to protect others.

Your flu vaccine will prevent you from spreading the flu to infants who may be too young to get the vaccine and to older people who may not respond as well to the vaccine.

MYTH: “I won’t get the flu shot or any vaccine. They are all dangerous.”

TRUTH: There seems to be a growing mistrust of vaccines in general. Scientifically, it is hard to understand. Without a doubt and without question, vaccines are one of the greatest advances in medical history. Many would argue they are the single greatest advance. Concerns about vaccines causing higher risk of autism, higher rates of allergies, or mercury poisoning from thimerosal added to the vaccine as a preservative have repeatedly been shown to be unfounded.

David G. Cope, M.D. (dcope@copefamilymedicine.com)

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