Preventing the Flu

No More Excuses – You Need a Flu Vaccine

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By Henry Ford Health System Staff

When flu season rolls around, out come all the excuses for why people don’t want to get the flu vaccine. Doctors and health care providers have heard them all. But the evidence is clear – the best way to protect yourself and your family from the flu is getting the vaccine.

Here are some of the most common excuses and why they just don’t hold up, according to Katherine Reyes, M.D., MPH, an infectious disease expert with Henry Ford Hospital:

“Oh, the flu isn’t so bad…right?”
Wrong. The flu (influenza) is a contagious disease which affects the lungs and can lead to serious illness, including pneumonia. Each year, millions of people get flu, more than 200,000 Americans are hospitalized with complications, and the virus kills thousands of people. While pregnant women, young children, older people, and people with certain chronic medical conditions like asthma, diabetes and heart disease are at increased risk of serious flu-related complications, even healthy people can get sick enough to miss work or school for a significant amount of time or even be hospitalized.

Flu viruses are unpredictable, and every season puts you at risk. Besides, you might be around someone who’s at high risk from the flu…a baby…your grandparents, or even a friend. You don’t want to be the one spreading flu, do you?

“I hate shots.”
The momentary minor sting of a flu shot is nothing compared to the suffering that can be caused by the flu. The flu can make you very sick for several days; send you to the hospital, or worse. For most healthy, non-pregnant people ages 2 through 49 years old, the nasal-spray flu vaccine is a great choice for people who don’t like shots. Either way, a shot or spray can prevent you from catching the flu. The brief discomfort you feel from the vaccine shot is worthwhile to avoid the flu.

“But what if the flu vaccine makes me sick? I can’t risk missing work or school.”
The flu vaccine cannot give you the flu. The most common side effects from a flu shot are a sore arm and maybe a low fever or achiness. The nasal-spray flu vaccine might cause congestion, runny nose, sore throat, or cough. If you do experience them at all, these side effects are mild and short-lived. And that’s much better than getting sick and missing several days of school or work or possibly getting a very severe illness and needing to go to the hospital.

“I got a flu vaccine once and still got sick.”
There are still reasons why you might have felt flu-like symptoms, even if you got a flu vaccine:

  • You may have been exposed to a non-flu virus before or after you got vaccinated. The flu vaccine can only prevent illnesses caused by flu viruses. It cannot protect against non-flu viruses, which can sometimes have similar symptoms. People also confuse the “stomach flu” with influenza, which is a respiratory disease not related to the stomach or intestinal conditions.
  • You might have been exposed to flu after you got vaccinated but before the vaccine took effect. It takes about two weeks after you receive the vaccine for your body to build protection against the flu.
  • You may have been exposed to an influenza virus that was very different from the viruses included in that year’s vaccine. The flu vaccine protects against the most common strains of the influenza viruses that research indicates will cause the most disease during the upcoming season, but there can be other flu viruses circulating.

So while the vaccine is no guarantee that you won’t have flu-like symptoms for these reasons, getting it strongly improves your odds.

“It’s too late for me to get protection from a flu vaccination this season.”
Flu seasons are unpredictable. They can begin early in the fall and last late into the spring. As long as flu season isn’t over, it’s not too late to get vaccinated, even during the winter. Getting a flu vaccine is the best way to protect yourself and your family. It is never too late to get the flu vaccine. The flu vaccine offers protection for you all season long.

“I’ll get vaccinated only if my family and friends get sick with flu.”
It will probably be too late to protect yourself if you wait until people around you get sick from flu. It takes about two weeks for the flu vaccine to provide full protection, so the sooner you get vaccinated, the more likely it is that you will be fully protected once the flu begins to circulate in your community. Flu vaccines are easy to find. They are offered in various locations like your doctor’s office, chain pharmacies, grocery stores, and health clinics.

“I got a flu vaccine last year, so I don’t need another one.”
Your body’s level of immunity from a vaccine received last season is expected to have declined. Also, each year the vaccine changes based on the strains of viruses that research suggests are likely to circulate this season. Getting the flu vaccine every year is still the best way to protect yourself.

“I don’t trust that the vaccine is safe.”
Flu vaccines have been given for more than 50 years and they have a very good safety track record. Flu vaccines are made the same way each year and their safety is closely monitored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration. Hundreds of millions of flu vaccines have been given safely.

For information about the flu and where to get vaccinated, call the Henry Ford Flu Hotline at (313) 916-0358 or log on to henryford.com/flu.