You know the time of year. The leaves are falling and all of the sudden Halloween is around the corner. The change of season brings other things, too. For one, flu activity starts to increase over the fall before peaking in the winter months. But according to a new poll, only half of Canadians are planning on getting the flu shot this year despite the fact it is the most important defence against the flu.
One of the reasons for these underwhelming numbers is the amount of misinformation about the flu vaccine and the flu in general. Here's a list of the top five flu myths I often hear -- and the truth behind them.
1. The flu is basically the same as a common cold and isn't that serious.
FALSE. A cold tends to develop gradually, usually over the course of a day or two and can last up to two weeks. Flu can come out of nowhere and hit hard, with a fever lasting a few days and weakness and tiredness potentially for several weeks. The flu can also have very serious consequences -- it is estimated that 12,200 people are hospitalized, and about 3,500 die each year from the flu. By getting the flu shot you can help ensure every family member is protected, especially those most vulnerable like children and the elderly.
2. The flu vaccine gives you the flu.
FALSE. Flu vaccinations delivered by injection are either made with an "inactivated" flu virus that's not infectious or with no flu virus at all. Depending on how well the vaccine is matched to this year's common viruses, 70 to 90 per cent of flu cases can be averted through vaccination.
3. You don't need to get the flu vaccine every year.
FALSE. First, the effectiveness of a vaccination on the immune system is reduced over time, so an annual vaccine is ideal for maximum protection. Secondly, influenza is constantly evolving and the flu vaccine is reviewed and updated annually to keep up-to-date with flu viruses.
4. You should wait until the height of flu season to get vaccinated so you're protected for longer.
FALSE. While it's never too late to get vaccinated, it's best to receive your flu shot soon after it becomes available. The antibodies delivered via the flu vaccine that protect you against infection take up to two weeks to take effect, and since the flu peaks between December and February it's important to get vaccinated weeks before the holiday party season starts.
5. Pregnant women shouldn't get the flu shot.
FALSE. Research has shown vaccination can help protect women during pregnancy, as well as their babies for up to six months after they are born. There is no recommendation for pregnant women to seek consent from their doctor prior to vaccination. However, there are some people who should seek their doctors' advice prior to being vaccinated, including those who have a moderate-to- severe illness and patients with a history of Guillain-Barre syndrome.
Getting the flu vaccine doesn't need to be complicated or time consuming. The flu shot is now available and you can visit your local Shoppers Drug Mart or Loblaw pharmacy to get it from an injection-certified pharmacist any hour, without an appointment.
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Children younger than six months are in one of the higher-risk groups for flu complications, but they are too young to receive the annual vaccine. The best way to protect the youngest kids is for those around them -- including parents, siblings, and caretakers -- to get their flu shots.
Pregnant women are able to get the injectable flu vaccine. This helps to protect them from the more serious complications, for which they are at higher risk, if they do contract the flu. But it can also help protect their babies before they reach the six-month minimum for vaccination, as the mother can pass on antibodies developed as a result of the vaccine to her child in utero and through breast milk.
Have a child who particularly hates shots? Ask your doctor about the FluMist nasal flu vaccine. It provides flu protection through a nasal spray instead of an injection. In some provinces, a prescription may be required and a small fee could apply.
Public health officials recommend that all children aged six months and older, with very few exceptions, get an annual flu shot.
Some people report contracting the flu shortly after receiving a flu shot, but the two are just coincidental, not related. The injection vaccine contains an inactivated virus that can't make you sick -- it's impossible to get the flu from the shot. It takes a week or two for the vaccine prevention to kick in, so if you come down with something shortly after getting your shot, you were likely exposed before you were vaccinated.
The single-dose flu shot and nasal spray are both free of thiomerosol, a preservative that contains mercury and has been a source of concern for some parents. As well, research that indicated a link between the preservative and autism has been disproven and officially retracted.
Children under the age of two years old are the group most likely to experience serious complications because of the flu, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States. And it's not unusual for kids to require medical care for influenza, especially if they are younger than five.
Kids with existing medical conditions -- including asthma, diabetes and brain or nervous system disorders -- are particularly at risk of developing serious complications if they get the flu, according to the CDC. And the highest number of flu cases are found in children aged one to four, according to the Ontario government.
The CDC advises that some children aged six months to eight years will require two doses of the flu vaccine in order to receive its full benefits. Kids who are getting the shot for the first time should get two doses: one as early into the flu season as possible, and a second at least 28 days later.
A new study from the CDC found that 40 per cent of young children who die because of influenza have no other chronic health issues. The researchers found that there have been 830 flu-related deaths since October 2004 in children younger than 18 in the U.S. In examining the records of 794 of those children, they discovered that 43 per cent had no pre-existing conditions that would make them more at risk for serious flu complications. The study recommends that sick children who are experiencing breathing problems or confusion should be brought to the hospital for medical attention.
The influenza vaccine mutates yearly, and the flu vaccine provided each year contains protection against the three strains thought to be most threatening for that particular flu season. Getting vaccinated each year ensures that protection stays current.