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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