( by Edward Lee, M.D., medical director – St. David’s Emergency Center in Bee Cave)
While it may still feel like summer outside, flu season is already right around the corner! According to the Texas Department of State Health Services, flu season officially runs from October through May. In Texas, most flu activity occurs during the months of December, January and February; however, it can strike at any time. That’s why it’s important to get vaccinated now—before flu season is in full swing.
It is recommended people get the influenza vaccine every year, not only because protection decreases over time, but also because a new vaccine is developed annually to match the specific strains of flu expected to be circulated.
There are many misconceptions about the flu and flu vaccines, so I wanted to debunk the top five myths in order to help people become better informed about—and better prepared for—this year’s flu season:
- You can get the flu from the flu vaccine. This is the most common myth I hear, and it’s simply not true. The reason—the virus is not active when it’s injected, and, therefore, it cannot make you sick. Some people mistake the mild side effects of the vaccine (including soreness) for the flu. Because it can take a week or two to gain full protection from the vaccine, it is possible to become infected during this time, or to acquire a common cold or respiratory illness—and, although unrelated, people often falsely assume the vaccine is to blame.
- Once you get the flu, there is no medical treatment for it. While antibiotics are often prescribed to fight bacterial infections, they are not an effective form of treatment against a viral infection, such as the flu. However, there are some antiviral drugs, such as Tamiflu, that are highly effective against the flu. Antiviral medications, which can reduce the amount of time you’re sick, are most effective when taken within the first 48 hours of the onset of symptoms, but they can also provide some benefit after that.
- You can catch the flu from cold weather. While there may seem to be a correlation between the flu and colder weather, being out in the cold does not increase your chances of getting the flu. Exposure to the influenza virus is the only way to catch the flu, although being stuck indoors, in close quarters with other people, may make it easier for the virus to spread.
- After December, it’s too late to get your flu shot. Because flu season often peaks in January or February, or even as late as March in some areas, it may be reasonable to get a flu vaccine later in the season, even through February. There should be an adequate supply of the flu vaccine this year, and it’s not too early to get one.
- Healthy people don’t need to get a vaccine. While the elderly population and people with chronic illnesses are at an increased risk of flu complications, even healthy adults can benefit from getting a flu shot, as they may spread the virus to others who are particularly susceptible. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends a flu vaccine for anyone who is 6 months to 4 years or 50+ years of age, or those who have chronic pulmonary (asthma), cardiovascular, renal, hepatic, neurologic, hematologic or metabolic disorders, as well as people whose immune system is suppressed. Additionally, women who are or will become pregnant during the flu season should get an influenza vaccine, as well as healthcare providers, residents of nursing homes, and other caregivers. Visit the CDC’s website for a look at the full list of populations who should get a vaccine.