According to Dennis Cunningham, a physician specializing in infectious diseases at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, October starts getting very busy. Emergency department, urgent care centers and inpatient numbers always go up because of the flu, he said, although many patients could avoid getting sick by practicing just a few simple precautions.
First thing to do is get a flu shot. One problem is that a lot of people buy into the long-held myths about the flu vaccine.
Myth: The flu vaccine can actually give you the flu.
“This is probably the most common myth out there, but it’s simply not true,” Cunningham said. “The vaccine can give you some mild symptoms. You may feel a bit achy, and your arm may be a little tender where you first get the shot. But that’s actually a good thing and shows that the vaccine is working. It tells us your body is responding appropriately to the vaccine.”
A few slight symptoms shouldn’t be confused with the actual flu. The vaccine may leave you feeling a bit warm or achy for a day or two, but true influenza keeps a person unmistakably ill and in bed for a week with high fever.
Myth: You should wait until it is cold outside to get your flu vaccine.
Cunningham said that some people worry that getting the vaccine too soon means it may wear off by the time winter arrives. Vaccinating people even in August will protect them throughout the entire flu season.
Myth: The flu is only spread by sneezing.
“Germs are pretty easy to pass around, and flu is really contagious,” Cunningham said.
A good first line of defense? Wash and sanitize your hands often during flu season. The easiest way is to use hand gels, but make sure they contain at least 65% to 95% alcohol. If soap and water are handy, that is even better for protecting against germs. Wash often and lather up. Make sure to rinse your hands completely to get the soap and germs off.
Myth: Flu vaccines do not protect you from current strains.
From the H1N1 scare in 2009 to swine flu and the bird flu, it seems there is a new strain making headlines each year. But researchers track the most recent, most dangerous strains, and work to stay one step ahead.
“The World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention pick the strains they think are most likely to circulate in the coming months so that people are protected against everything that may go around,” Cunningham said. Every year’s vaccine includes two A strains and one B strain of influenza.