Misconceptions About the Flu
By Della Hughes-Carter
As a nurse practitioner, I encourage vaccination as a way to promote health. I am frequently asked questions about the flu and the flu vaccine. Here are a few questions I often receive:
Can the flu vaccine give me the flu?
No, but there can be side effects from the vaccine. Mostly soreness at the injection site, but sometimes a low-grade fever, muscles aches, cough and headache can occur. This is the body’s early immune response reacting to the vaccine. If not contraindicated, taking Tylenol or ibuprofen before receiving the vaccine and 24 hours after can ward off these side effects.
Are nausea, vomiting and diarrhea symptoms of the flu?
No, flu is a respiratory disease caused by the influenza virus. It is not a stomach or intestinal disease, although these symptoms can become a complication of the flu. The flu can lead to other serious complications such as pneumonia and blood infections. Every year, thousands of Americans die or become hospitalized because of the flu. Infants, young children, people over 65, those with certain chronic conditions or weakened immunity are at greatest risk for flu complications.
Do I really need the flu vaccine every year?
Yes, the CDC recommends a yearly flu vaccine for most everyone six months and older. The body’s immune protection from the flu vaccine declines over time. Children six months to eight years may need two doses, one month apart to boost their immunity. There are some people who should not get the vaccine, such as those who have severe life-threatening allergies to the flu vaccine, or those who have had Guillain-Barre Syndrome. Some types of the flu vaccine contain a small amount of egg protein; if you are allergic to eggs, tell your healthcare provider. It does not mean you can’t be vaccinated, but special precautions need to be made.
I don’t like ﾒshots,ﾓ is there another way to receive the vaccine?
Yes, for those who are healthy, not pregnant, ages two through 49 and not visiting or taking care of someone with a weakened immunity, there is a nasal spray that contains a live attenuated (weakened) influenza virus. The nasal spray vaccine cannot cause the flu and is a good choice for many.
Vaccines are considered a medication, and with any medication there are risks. I encourage you to have a conversation with your healthcare provider and be well informed. The CDC monitors the safety of vaccines. For comprehensive information about the flu vaccine see the CDC’s website: cdc.gov/flu/about/season/flu-season-2015-2016.htm
Dr. Della Hughes-Carter is a board certified nurse practitioner with a primary care practice, and a faculty member of the College of Nursing at Michigan State University. You can contact Della by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.