As the colder weather signals the start of the flu season, help yourself and your family stay healthy by being informed about influenza (the “flu”).
The flu is caused by influenza viruses. These viruses become more active in late fall, and peak in mid-to-late winter, which is why so many of us get the flu around this time of the year. Someone with the flu can spread it to others by coughing, sneezing, or even talking at close range. When you come down with the flu, symptoms include fever, cough, muscle aches, headache, chills, fatigue, and a sore throat.3
Although most people with the flu feel like themselves again within a week or two, some are at higher risk of complications, which can be serious. Each year about 3,500 Canadians die from the flu or its complications.3 People at risk of developing complications include the elderly, pregnant women, children under the age of 5, and people with medical conditions like asthma, cancer, diabetes, or heart disease.
Your best defence against getting the flu is to get vaccinated every year.1 Many people skip getting their yearly flu vaccine because of certain common myths. Let’s review some of these myths and learn the truth.
Myth: I am young and healthy – I don’t need the flu vaccine!
Truth: Anyone can get sick with the flu – during flu season, we are all at risk. Getting the flu vaccine helps protect you.2 Also, by being vaccinated, even if you do come down with the flu, you’re less likely to get severe symptoms or need to be admitted to the hospital.2
Getting vaccinated protects not only you but those around you as well – in your home, your workplace, and your community, especially people who are at a higher risk for complications. It’s a bit of a numbers game – the more people that get vaccinated against the flu, the less the virus is in the population, so fewer people come in contact with the flu and fewer people get sick.3
Myth: The flu vaccine could give me the flu.
Truth: In short, no.
The flu vaccine comes in 2 forms: as an injection (the flu shot) and as a nasal spray. Flu shots do not contain live viruses. The viruses in these shots are not active and can’t give you the flu. Although the flu vaccine that comes as a nasal spray does have live viruses, they have been weakened so they are not strong enough to make you sick either.4
After being vaccinated against the flu, it can take up to 2 weeks for the vaccine to work. If you are exposed to the flu virus before you get the vaccine, or during the time before you have developed protection, you can still get sick.4 The flu vaccine does not provide 100 per cent protection against the flu, so you can still get the flu, but the vaccine itself does not make you sick.
You can also coincidentally get sick from other viruses and bacteria around the time you get your flu vaccine. Because of this, people may mistakenly think they have the flu, when they actually have a cold or another bacterial infection.
Myth: The flu vaccine causes severe reactions and side effects.
Truth: Flu vaccines are safe and tolerated well.
After getting a flu shot, most people experience minor side effects where they received the shot, like soreness, redness, swelling, and occasionally fever and aches. With the nasal spray, you may get a runny nose, sore throat, cough and headache. The side effects of either vaccine are generally milder and less severe than flu symptoms, and go away faster.5
Myth: If I had a flu vaccine last year, so I don’t need to get one this year.
Truth: Flu virus strains change constantly.3 Each year new vaccines are made to protect against the viruses that are being spread for that season. Because of this, the vaccine you had last year may not work with this year’s viruses. Also, your protection from the flu vaccine decreases over time. Yearly vaccination is your best chance to stay protected!6
Myth: I’m pregnant so I shouldn’t get the flu vaccine.
Truth: The inactivated flu vaccine is safe at any stage of pregnancy. Coming down with the flu while pregnant can put both the mother and baby at risk. With each trimester, women are at higher risk of flu-related complications, so it makes sense to get the vaccine early. The sooner, the better.9
Myth: I am feeling under the weather, so I should wait to get vaccinated.
Truth: If you are very sick or have a fever you should delay getting the flu vaccine until you’ve recovered, but if it is something minor, like a mild cold, you can still get vaccinated.9 If you’re not sure, you can always talk to your health care provider.
The information provided is for personal use, reference, and education only and is not intended to be a substitute for a physician’s advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Please consult with your healthcare professional for specific information on personal health matters.
Canadian Immunization Guide Chapter on Influenza and Statement on Seasonal Influenza Vaccine for 2019–2020. Government of Canada. Available at: https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/publications/vaccines-immunization/canadian-immunization-guide-statement-seasonal-influenza-vaccine-2019-2020.html
- National Advisory Committee on Immunization (2017). Canadian Immunization Guide Chapter on Influenza and Statement on Seasonal Influenza Vaccine for 2018-2019. Ottawa, ON: Public Health Agency of Canada.
- Government of Canada. Flu (influenza): For Health Professionals (October 25, 2018) from http://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/flu-influenza/health-professionals.html
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Influenza (Flu). Misconceptions about Flu Vaccines. (September 25, 2018) Retrieved June 20, 2019 from https://www.cdc.gov/flu/prevent/misconceptions.htm
- Immunize Canada. Influenza. Retrieved June 20,2019 from http://www.immunize.ca/questions-and-answers
- Ontario Public Health: Government of Ontario. (2019, June). Retrieved June 20, 2019 from: https://www.publichealthontario.ca/en/diseases-and-conditions/infectious-diseases/respiratory-diseases/influenza
- 2019/2019 Universal Influenza Immunization Program Health Care Provider Q&A: General Information. Retrieved June 20/2019 from http://www.health.gov.on.ca/en/programs/publichealth/flu/uiip/docs/flu_uiip_HCP_QA_2018-19.pdf
- Leis, Jerome. 14 answers to your questions about the flu and the flu shot. Your Health Matters. November 21, 2018. Available at http://health.sunnybrook.ca/wellness/14-answers-to-flu-questions/. Accessed July 24, 2019.
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