Cutting Through The Flu Shot Myths

Time is now to be vaccinated against influenza

As the weather gets cooler, fall is not the only season on its way. Influenza season also begins as people spend more time inside, making it easier for the virus to spread. To stay healthy, people need to get vaccinated against influenza, a serious respiratory disease.

Each year, a different strain of influenza is reported, which makes annual vaccinations necessary. The best time to get the vaccine is before the first cases are reported, said Ashley Garavet, MD, a family medicine physician with ThedaCare Physicians-Waupaca. The flu season can start as early as November and last through spring.

“It can take up to two weeks for your body to build up protection against the virus,” she said. “People can spread the disease even before they realize they are sick so it may be too late if you wait until the first flu cases in your community are reported.”

People have several misconceptions regarding influenza, which is commonly referred to as the flu, said David Budde, DO, a family medicine physician with ThedaCare Physicians-Berlin. “Most people do not realize how serious the flu can be. It’s not just like having a bad cold. It is a lot worse,” he said.

To separate the facts from fiction related to influenza, local ThedaCare providers debunk five common myths about the flu and getting vaccinated:

Myth No. 1: The stomach flu and influenza are the same thing. The truth: The influenza virus attacks the respiratory system while what most people call the “flu” causes vomiting and diarrhea. The “stomach flu” may last 24 to 48 hours while influenza can last a week or longer. The primary flu symptoms are: fever, severe muscle and joint aches, fatigue, a sore throat, a dry cough and runny nose.

“One of the main differences between a cold and flu is how fast it comes on,” said Jasmine Wiley, MD, a family medicine physician with ThedaCare Physicians-Clintonville. “Cold symptoms seem to come on gradually, but with influenza, it’s everything at once.”

Myth No. 2: The flu shot is not for me. The truth: The Centers for Disease Control recommend everyone receive a flu shot. The vaccination will not only keep that person healthy, it will also help prevent the spread of the disease in the community, especially to those who are unable to receive the shot such as newborns or people with compromised immune systems.

Myth No. 3: The flu is not a big deal. The truth: Influenza is a serious disease that attacks the patient’s respiratory system. The CDC estimates that 12,000 to 57,000 deaths are caused annually from the flu or its complications. The range is so wide since the severity of the virus changes from year to year and states do not always require notification of flu-related deaths.  Influenza is most dangerous to patients over age 65, young children and people living with chronic conditions.

“Otherwise healthy people who get the flu can easily miss a week of school or work,” Dr. Garavet said. “The flu wipes you out and it can take awhile to recover.”

Myth No. 4: The shot will make me sick. The truth: The vaccine cannot cause the flu. The vaccine is made with either inactive viruses or with no viruses at all.

“Like all immunizations, there are some possible side effects, including soreness, swelling or tenderness where the shot was given,” Dr. Budde said. “A low-grade fever or headache is also possible. People who say the shot gave them the flu may have been infected before the vaccine fully took effect. It can take about two weeks after the shot before you are protected.”

Myth No. 5: If I get the flu, the doctor will give me antibiotics to make me feel better. The truth: Influenza is a virus so antibiotics will not work. Sometimes, patients with the flu develop a secondary infection, such as an ear infection or pneumonia. In those cases, an antibiotic can help against that secondary infection, but not the flu virus. Tamiflu, if you begin taking it within 48 hours of showing symptoms, may shorten the length of your illness, but it will not make you feel better overnight.

Getting a flu shot is easy and takes just a few minutes. Dr. Wiley said people can contact their ThedaCare Physicians clinic to set up a time to come in and get the vaccination.

“There are a lot of reasons why people skip getting a flu shot, but everyone, especially those who care for the elderly, infants or chronically ill, need to get one,” she said. “Most insurers, including Medicare, pay for the vaccine so it usually doesn’t cost you anything. It is an easy way to stay healthier this winter.”

For more than 100 years, ThedaCare™ has been committed to finding a better way to deliver serious and complex healthcare to patients throughout Northeast Wisconsin. The organization serves over 200,000 patients annually and employs more than 6,800 healthcare professionals throughout the region. ThedaCare has seven hospitals located in Appleton, Neenah, Berlin, Waupaca, Shawano, New London and Wild Rose as well as 34 clinics in nine counties. ThedaCare is the first in Wisconsin to be a Mayo Clinic Care Network Member, giving our specialists the ability to consult with Mayo Clinic experts on a patient’s care. ThedaCare is a non-profit healthcare organization with a level II trauma center, comprehensive cancer treatment, stroke and cardiac programs as well as a foundation dedicated to community service.  For more information, visit www.thedacare.org or follow ThedaCare on Facebook and Twitter.