With the weather finally cooling down, it’s officially the start of flu season here in Arizona. Below, we break down why getting your flu shot is so important this year and debunk some of the most common flu shot myths out there.
What is a flu shot?
A flu shot is an injection of tiny amounts of deactivated influenza viruses. These virus strains trigger your body’s natural immune system response to create antibodies that fight and destroy them. By learning what the virus looks like, your body becomes better prepared to protect you.
Why do I need to get a flu shot every year?
The flu vaccine changes every year because the flu virus is constantly changing. By looking at global trends, scientists are able to predict what strains are most likely to impact the United States during the upcoming flu season, then create a vaccine for that year.
When is flu season?
In the United States, flu season generally begins in October as the weather cools down. Since the virus thrives in colder weather, it peaks in the coldest months (December through February) before leveling off in the spring.
How do I know the difference between the flu virus and COVID-19?
Influenza (Flu) and COVID-19 are contagious respiratory illnesses caused by different viruses. However, the symptoms are very similar – coughing, fever, aches, runny nose – and it may be hard to tell the difference. If you’re worried you may have contracted the flu or COVID-19, it’s important to isolate and get tested right away to confirm your diagnosis.
When should I get a flu shot?
It’s important to get your shot right ahead of flu season. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends early fall, so October is the perfect time. Protection from a flu shot is believed to last for at least 6 months.
How does the flu virus affect the body?
The flu virus infects the lungs, causing cough and inflammation of the upper and lower respiratory tracts. Your muscles ache, your head hurts, and your appetite goes down, among other things.
It usually only takes a day or two for symptoms to develop once you have been exposed to the virus. Symptoms typically last 10 – 14 days depending on your body’s immune system response.
If you catch the flu, the best medicine is plenty of rest and fluids (roughly 1-2 liters per day). Ibuprofen and Tylenol can help you manage your fever and body aches. Over-the-counter cold medicine can also help ease symptoms but consult with your provider if you have high blood pressure or diabetes. Always make sure to limit your exposure to others if you come down with the flu.
Does the dose of the vaccine depend on your age?
Yes. Seniors must be vaccinated with a stronger version (higher dose) of the flu vaccine that helps the body create a stronger immune system response. This is done to protect seniors, who are at higher risk of developing complications from viruses. Viruses like the flu and COVID-19 can cause pneumonia, a serious and life-threatening condition, especially in seniors.
Young children and infants are also at higher risk. Vaccines like the flu shot help to strengthen their immune system. The CDC recommends that parents follow an immunization schedule from birth to age 18 so that children are protected from most dangerous virus strains.
Other than seniors and children, the people most at risk from the flu virus are those with pre-existing conditions. Chronic medical conditions and breathing problems (asthma, COPD, diabetes, heart problems) raise the risk of getting sick and possibly being hospitalized or dying from flu.
Is it possible to get vaccinated and still get the flu?
Yes. The flu vaccine is only a prediction and the overall effectiveness still depends on each individual’s immune system. The body also takes about 2 weeks to respond to the first injection. In that time, you may come in contact with the virus before your body has developed an immune response. However, even if you do get sick, the vaccine helps ensure it is less severe of an infection.
Common Flu Shot Myths
Myth #1: The flu shot can give you the flu.
This is a common belief that is simply not true. If you come into contact with the flu virus immediately after getting the flu vaccine, your body may not have developed an immune system response yet. In this case, you can contract the virus, but it is not because of the vaccine.
It’s common to feel a little fatigued and sore after a flu shot. This is actually proof the vaccine is working, as your body’s immune system is working hard to create the white blood cells it needs to fight infection. Your body may feel strange and even a little flu-like, but this is only your immune system in action.
Myth #2: You can catch the flu from going out in cold weather without a jacket, with wet hair or by sitting near a drafty window.
This is where correlation does not equal causation. Low relative humidity and cold temperatures help keep the virus alive and airborne longer than warm, humid conditions, but being cold doesn’t directly cause the virus.
Myth #3: Pregnant women should avoid the flu shot.
This is untrue. Pregnant women are actually at higher risk for developing complications from the flu virus, so they should make sure to get their vaccine ahead of flu season. Flu shots given during pregnancy help protect both the mother and her baby from flu.
Myth #4: You can’t spread the flu if you’re feeling well.
Flu carriers, just like those with COVID-19, can be asymptomatic. This means it is possible to carry and transmit the virus without ever having any symptoms.
Myth #5: The flu is just a worse version of the common cold.
This is not true. While some of the symptoms may be the same, the flu is much more dangerous. The CDC estimates that last year there were as many as 62,000 deaths from the flu and 740,000 hospitalizations in 2019.
If you’re worried about contracting the flu, get in contact with your Valleywise Health provider. We’re stocking up on vaccines to ensure everyone is protected from the flu this season. If you’re displaying symptoms of COVID-19 or influenza, we also offer comprehensive and safe testing. To learn more, call 1-833-VLLYWSE or book an appointment online.