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Flu Season 101: A Flu Good Tips

Last year’s flu season was especially heinous, killing nearly 4,000 Americans per week. As flu season is now upon us again, it’s important to be prepared. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of misinformation about the flu and the flu vaccine, so we’re going to debunk the biggest myths.

The flu vaccine can cause the flu: FALSE

The flu vaccine contains an inactivated version of the virus, which cannot cause the flu. Some people, however, have minor reactions to the injection. For example, you may have a day or two of mild redness and soreness at the injection site. A small number of people also get headache, fever, and body aches for a few days, which is not the flu but rather your immune system reacting to the vaccine. Everyone older than six months of age should get the flu vaccine to help prevent the flu. (If you are less than six months old and reading this website, please contact us immediately.)

You got the flu vaccine last year, so you don’t need to get the flu shot this year: FALSE

As we get older, we change. So too does the flu virus, which mutates and evolves between flu seasons. It’s important to get a new and updated flu shot every year, usually during September through November. This year, the CDC recommends vaccination before the end of October. The contents of the vaccine change to account for the different flu strains that doctors anticipate will hit the population.

If you get the flu shot, you can still get the flu. TRUE

If you do get the flu vaccine, you can still get the flu. Your chances are much lower, however, and your symptoms will likely be less severe.

If you are pregnant you should not get the flu vaccine. FALSE

The flu can be especially severe in pregnant women, even causing death. Therefore, it’s essential that all pregnant women get vaccinated as soon as the vaccine is available, regardless of trimester. Vaccination actually offers ongoing protection to babies even after birth, providing coverage until they’re old enough to get their own vaccine.

If you have an egg allergy you should not get the flu vaccine. FALSE

Although some versions of the flu vaccine contain a small amount of egg, it should not cause an allergic reaction. If you have a history of severe, life-threatening reactions to eggs, you can still get the flu vaccine but should do so in a doctor’s office (rather than a pharmacy). The only reason not to get the flu shot is a prior severe reaction (anaphylaxis) to the flu shot itself.

If you’re coming down with the flu, there’s nothing you can do to stop it. FALSE

If you think you’re getting sick with the flu, your doctor may prescribe an antiviral medication (oseltamivir/Tamiflu), which is most effective if started during the first forty-eight hours of your illness.

During flu season, frequent hand-washing doesn’t really affect your chance of infection. FALSE

The flu virus is transmitted in droplets of saliva that get sprayed into the air during speaking, talking, or sneezing. These droplets can land on surfaces, get onto your fingers, and then cause infection when you touch your eyes or mouth. To keep yourself safe, avoid close contact with people who have flu-like symptoms (fever, head- ache, body aches, fatigue, sore throat, cough), wash or sanitize your hands a few times per day, and avoid touching your own face while in public places.

Marc Eisenberg, M.D., F.A.C.C.

Marc Sabin Eisenberg, M.D., F.A.C.C., is an associate professor of medicine at Columbia University Medical Center and an attending cardiologist at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital.

Christopher Kelly, M.D., M.S.

Christopher Rehbeck Kelly, M.D., M.S., is a cardiology fellow at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital / Columbia University Medical Center.