Flu Fact and Fiction

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Fears about the use of the flu vaccine by pregnant women stem from generations past, when women were advised against getting any vaccine while pregnant, says Dr. Greg Poland, director of the Vaccine Research Group at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.

"This was because the vaccines a generation ago were live virus vaccines. Today, the injectable vaccine is just pieces of protein and there is no risk of getting the flu from it," he says. The nasal vaccine, which does contain live virus, however, is not recommended for pregnant women.

Getting the flu, and the high fever that accompanies it, is much more of a concern for pregnant women, Poland says, because high fever in the early stages of pregnancy can lead to certain neurologic brain defects in the baby. Hence, preventing flu infection with vaccination and getting early treatment is of the utmost importance for pregnant women.

'Young, healthy people don't need to be vaccinated because the flu is only dangerous for infants and the elderly.'

Verdict: False

Considering that those who are young and healthy generally fend off flu better than younger children, senior citizens and those with compromised immune systems, many believe that it's not that important for those at low risk of suffering flu complications to get vaccinated. But this couldn't be farther from the truth, says Schaffner.

"The flu is a viral disease that can put you in bed and into the hospital very quickly, even in young, healthy people. Even if the flu only does this to one out of every 300 young healthy people, we can't pick those people out in advance, so we want to protect everyone," he says.

More importantly, widespread vaccination is critical to protect, not just you, but the people around you.

"Vaccines have two functions: they protect the person who is vaccinated, but also everyone around that person -- because the person will not spread the flu," Schaffner says. "And someone around that young, healthy person may have diabetes, or be elderly, or be a small infant, and you want to protect these people from getting sick."

'Getting the flu vaccine will completely protect me from getting the seasonal flu.'

Verdict: Not Quite

The flu vaccine is only about 59 percent effective at warding off flu, according to a review published in the October issue of The Lancet Infectious Diseases. Nevertheless, experts say the flu shot is still the best defense against the virus.

"While we hope and wait for a perfect vaccine, we've got a good one that's capable of preventing influenza and its complication," said Schaffner. "It can't prevent every instance, but it can prevent many. And that's a good thing."

Because the vaccine has its limitations, other methods of flu prevention such as hand washing and staying away from those who are sick are still very important. Regular exercise, getting plenty of sleep, and cleaning commonly-used surfaces at home frequently are also good ways to stop the flu in its tracks.

'If I already got the flu this year, so I shouldn't bother getting vaccinated because I can't get it again.'

Verdict: Not Quite

Often, there is a misconception that there is just one influenza strain that circulates in any given season. If this were the case, then getting the flu once would provide your body with the antibodies necessary to fight off that flu and prevent you from coming down with the flu again that season.

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