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Myths Busted: The Flu Vaccine

Ginger Hatton Vail Valley Medical Center

It's that time again flu season. Influenza (flu) is a serious contagious disease that affects thousands of people each year. One of the best ways to prevent contracting the flu is to get the flu vaccine. Unfortunately each year many people choose to skip vaccination. Below are some of the common excuses for not getting vaccinated.

Myth: I got the flu shot before and it made me sick.
Busted: The vaccine cannot give you the flu no matter which way it is administered shot or nasal spray. The vaccine is made with an inactivated (killed) virus. Common side effects can be a sore upper arm from the needle stick and maybe a low grade fever or mild flu-like symptoms for 24 - 48 hours.

The nasal spray is a live but weakened vaccine. The side effects could include some slight congestion runny nose or mild sore throat lasting a few days.

It takes about two weeks after receiving the vaccine for your body to build up the immunity to the flu. Within those two weeks your body's immune system will be a bit taxed and not up to its full germ-fighting self. One could be exposed to the flu or another virus right before receiving the vaccine or just after it. Since protection had not yet set in this sometimes is interpreted as the vaccine making a person sick but it wasn't the vaccine itself that caused the illness.

Myth: I never get the flu.
Busted: Just because it hasn't happened doesn't mean it never will.  No one expects to get sick but none of us are invincible. Doing nothing to prevent the flu is taking a chance with your health and those you work with and your household members. 

Myth: I don't like needles so I can't get the flu vaccine.
Busted: The vaccine also comes in a nasal spray. If you can't get the nasal flu vaccine discuss your apprehensions with your provider. The actual injection of the vaccine is not as terrible as the fear of needles builds it up to be. Using simple techniques like relaxing your arm breathing calmly and/or have a friend distract you can make the quick vaccination process easier.

Myth: I don't care if I get the flu.
Busted:  Getting the flu usually causes fever chills fatigue nausea body aches headaches and more. None of that sounds desirable and you could be sick for days or even weeks. But let's think about the impact it has on others for a moment. 

The Center for Disease Control says a person can be contagious a day before showing any symptoms.  Try to count how many people you came into contact with in the last 24 hours. Now estimate how many people have touched surfaces after you like doorknobs light switches handrails and pens. That adds up to a lot of people that you could have contaminated with the flu before you are even aware you're sick.  Then factor in that some of those people could have health issues like diabetes respiratory problem heart condition that your flu could make severely worse.

The best way at prevent the flu is to get the vaccine washing your hands frequently avoid touching your eyes nose or mouth and stay home if you are sick.

NOTE: Some people with certain health conditions should not get flu vaccine in any form. They should discuss their eligibility/ concerns with their physician. These conditions include severe allergies to eggs history of Guillian-Barré syndrome severe reaction to previous flu vaccines and babies under 6 months old.

Ginger Hatton is an employee at Vail Valley Medical Center's Occupational Health Clinic. She has been with VVMC for six years and a resident of Colorado for 16 years.