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Debunking Flu Vaccine Myths

Now is the right time to get a flu shot. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, sporadic flu activity is already being reported in 42 states across the nation, including South Carolina. The flu vaccine is one of the best ways to protect yourself and your family from the flu. But a lot of people choose not to get it, saying it will give them flu symptoms or that it’s not worth it because doesn’t always work against all strains of the flu. In this WLTX news report, Dr. Joshua Prince of Lexington Family Medicine, a Lexington Medical Center physician practice, debunks these flu vaccine myths.

One common rumor is that the flu vaccine will give you the flu. Dr. Prince says that’s absolutely false. The flu vaccine provides your immune system with a process to build antibodies that will either prevent you from getting the flu, or help you fight the flu.

Some people may have mild reactions to the flu shot including body aches lasting one or two days. Dr. Prince says that’s much better than getting the flu. The flu will invade your nasal passages, throat and lungs – and the body aches and fever can be devastating, leading to hospitalization or even death.

Another reason some people skip the flu shot is that it’s not always effective against all strains. For example, last year’s flu shot was only about 30% effective. Dr. Prince says the vaccine is still worth it. While a number of influenza viruses do exist, we have the best flu vaccine that experts can make every year. A lot of research goes into preparing the vaccine each year and we should take advantage of it. The effectiveness does vary from year to year, but even if it’s only 10 to 30 percent effective, that’s better than nothing.

It’s A Bad Flu Season

We’re in the middle of a tough flu season. In fact, Lexington Medical Center doctors say it may be the worst flu season in South Carolina since 2010.

In October, the Lexington Medical Center Emergency department saw 15 flu cases; in November, 80; in December, 550. And, in just the first week of January – 300 flu cases.

“The flu is a very serious illness,” said Daniel L. Avosso, MD, MBA, FACEP, FACHE, medical director of the Emergency department at Lexington Medical Center. “It causes hospitalization and death. And its symptoms last longer than other illnesses.”

Unoftunately, Dr. Avosso says this year’s flu vaccine may not be as effective as we had hoped.

“Each year, we have to predict what vaccine to make. Some years, we get it right. Others, we don’t,” he said. The accuracy of the vaccine determines the severity of the flu season.”

However, Dr. Avosso advises that patients should still get a flu shot. That’s because if you’re exposed to the flu after having the vaccine, your symptoms may not be as severe.

It’s especially important for people with underlying conditions to have a flu vaccine. That includes people with asthma, diabetes, epilepsy, congestive heart failure, neurological issues and who are bed bound. It also includes the very young, pregnant women and the elderly population. That’s because these groups are most likely to be hospitalized with flu complications.

The flu is spread through small microscopic droplets. You can contract the flu from someone who is as many as six feet away from you. You can also catch it from touching the same door knob as someone with the flu. It’s important to be especially careful in crowds.

Daniel Avosso, MD

The flu tends to peak this time of year because people are stuck inside in cold weather spreading germs from one person to another as opposed to the warmer weather months where people enjoy the outdoors.

If you’re exposed to the flu, you’re likely to develop flu symptoms between one and four days later. If you have the flu, you were contagious the day before your symptoms appeared and up to a week later.

Tamiflu is a medicine that can help shorten the duration of the flu and help with symptoms. But you need to begin taking it between one and two days after symptoms appear. And because it can cause side effects, some doctors recommend it only for a select group of patients.

The flu is a virus – so antibiotics won’t help. In addition to Tamiflu, it’s important to stay hydrated, rest and treat your symptoms with over-the-counter medication. With proper care, the flu will eventually run its course.

Make It Your Business to Fight the Flu

By Stacey Gallaway, MD, MPH, of Occupational Health, a Lexington Medical Center physician practice

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that the flu costs the United States more than $87 billion annually, and it is responsible for the loss of nearly 17 million workdays each flu season. Tens of thousands of people are hospitalized and thousands die from flu-related illnesses in the United States each year. Infectious disease experts agree that annual influenza vaccination is the best protection against the flu.

Box of tissues and medicine on a wood table (the background is cream pattern wallpaper).

Influenza or “the flu” is a contagious disease that spreads around the United States every year, usually between October and May. Flu is caused by influenza viruses and is spread mainly by coughing, sneezing and being in close contact with others. Anyone can get the flu. It strikes suddenly, and symptoms can be severe, including fever and chills, sore throat, muscle aches, fatigue, cough, headache and runny nose.

Influenza infection is more dangerous for some people. Infants and young children, people 65 years of age and older, pregnant women and people with chronic health conditions or a weakened immune system are at greatest risk for hospitalization and death due to the infection. The CDC recommends annual vaccination for everyone 6 months of age and older. It’s especially important for people at high risk for serious complications, such as those with asthma, heart disease or diabetes. Although the flu is more dangerous for individuals with certain medical conditions, healthy people can become very ill or die from contracting the flu.

There are many different influenza viruses, and they are always changing. Each year, a new flu vaccine is made to protect against the viruses most likely to cause disease in the upcoming flu season. Predicting which viruses will be important in the upcoming flu season is not an exact science. Even when the vaccine is not a perfect match to circulating virus strains, it may still afford some protection against infection or reduce the severity of an infection.

Flu vaccines are manufactured to protect against three or four viruses: H1N1; H3N2; and one or two influenza B viruses. The flu vaccine cannot provide complete protection from an influenza infection caused by a virus not included in the vaccine, and it does not protect against other viral illnesses that have influenza- like symptoms.

This season’s three-component vaccines will contain:
• an A/Michigan/45/2015 (H1N1) pdm09-like virus.
• an A/Hong Kong/4801/2014 (H3N2)-like virus.
• a B/Brisbane/60/2008-like (B/Victoria lineage) virus.
Four-component vaccines will also contain a B/ Phuket/3073/2013-like (B/Yamagata lineage) virus.

Stacey Gallaway, MD, MPH

Routine annual influenza vaccination is recommended for all persons older than 6 months of age. Special emphasis should be placed on vaccination of high-risk groups and their household contacts and caregivers:
• Children age 6 months to 5 years
• Adults 50 years of age and older
• Persons with chronic diseases, such as asthma, diabetes and heart disease
• Persons who have a weakened immune system
• Pregnant women
• Residents of nursing homes and other long-term care facilities
• Persons who are extremely obese (body mass index greater than or equal to 40)
• Health care workers
• Caregivers and household contacts of those at high risk

There is no live flu virus in the vaccination, so flu shots cannot cause the flu. This misconception is common because some people may have a sore arm and a low-grade fever or achiness after getting a flu shot. All these side effects are mild, short- lived and easily alleviated with simple measures, such as a cool compress on the arm or an over-the-counter pain reliever. Symptoms related to vaccination side effects are minor compared to the symptoms of an influenza infection.

Employers can play a key role in protecting employees’ health and safety while increasing productivity, reducing absenteeism, lowering health care costs and limiting other negative effects of the flu. Make it your business to fight the flu.