In hot climates, cooler weather is always well-received. What’s not so welcome, however, are the respiratory viruses it can bring with it. Chief amongst these is influenza, or flu, as it’s more commonly known.
Flu is a highly contagious virus, and symptoms, which include fever, fatigue, aching joints and headache, can last from 3 days to 2 weeks. While there are antiviral medications that can treat flu, in most cases, your physician will advise you to rest and drink plenty of fluids.
To help minimize the spread of flu, it is advised to get the flu vaccine. Here, Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi’s Chief of Caregiver Wellbeing, Dr. Lyssette Cardona, addresses some of the common myths around the flu shot:
- The vaccine makes you sick.
The flu vaccine contains a killed (inactive) virus, so it isn’t infectious and couldn’t cause you to become sick with the flu germ. Some people may experience a mild reaction following the shot, with symptoms including a low-grade fever, headache and achy muscles. You may also experience some soreness, tenderness or redness around the site of the vaccination.
Severe reactions are rare, and like mild reactions, will typically occur within a few minutes to a few hours of having the vaccination.
- I had the vaccine before and still got flu.
There could be several reasons for this. You may have been infected with the virus before you received the shot – you can have flu for 1-4 days before any symptoms develop. Alternatively, you may have been infected in the two-week period after the shot, during which your immunity is still developing. Another reason may be that you had been suffering from another respiratory infection, whose symptoms mirror those of flu. It’s also possible that the strain of flu you got was different to ones you were vaccinated against.
- I had the vaccine last year, so I don’t need it again.
This isn’t the case. Firstly, your immunity declines over time, so an annual vaccination is the best way to ensure you’re protected. Secondly, the flu vaccine isn’t identical every year. Research is carried out to identify which three or four strains are most likely to circulate each year, and the vaccine is then developed accordingly.
- The flu vaccine is only for young children and the elderly.
Young children, the elderly and those with chronic conditions, like diabetes, heart disease and lung disease, are more likely to suffer complications from flu. However, the virus can infect even the healthiest of individuals and when serious, can lead to hospitalization and even death.
As such, the flu vaccine is recommended for anyone aged 6 months or above. Pregnant women are advised to have the vaccine after 12 weeks, and can pass immunity on to their babies, providing them with protection after they are born.
Babies under 6 months, and anyone with serious allergies to the vaccine ingredients, or who has suffered a serious reaction to a previous flu shot should not be vaccinated.
- I travel a lot so the flu vaccine isn’t necessary.
If you’re a regular traveler, then the flu vaccine makes even more sense. The timing of seasonal flu outbreaks differs across the globe, and in some countries, influenza can be a threat all year. The flu virus is easily spread and traveling through airports and on airplanes gives you an increased risk of being infected. It’s best to get the flu shot 2 weeks before you travel to give your immunity time to develop.