Residents and health professionals, in Colorado and nationwide, are currently battling a particularly rough flu season. Experts say this year’s strain will be one of the toughest we’ve seen in almost a decade. The seasonal flu, also known as influenza, is not the same as a head cold, and should not be taken lightly. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Environment estimates that the flu affects anywhere from 5 percent to 20 percent of the U.S. population each year, and that approximately 200,000 people are hospitalized each year due to flu-related complications. According to the CDC, this year’s flu outbreaks are widespread throughout most the U.S., including Colorado. It is important to know that it is not too late to get a flu shot.
How can you separate fact from fiction about the flu, and protect yourself and your family? Medical assistant instructors, Dawn Kottke and Dwight Preston at Everest College’s Colorado Springs campus bust some common, flu-related myths to help set the record straight.
Fact or Fiction: The flu vaccine can cause the flu.
“This is a complete myth. And it is a dangerous one to spread. The number one, most important thing that you can do to prevent the flu and flu-related complications is to get the flu vaccine each year,” said Kottke.
There are many strains of flu viruses, but the flu vaccine protects against the three most prevalent strains each year. This year’s vaccine will protect against an influenza A H3N2 virus, an influenza B virus and the H1N1 virus that caused a pandemic in 2009.
There are two common ways of receiving the flu vaccine – the seasonal shot, and a nasal spray. The seasonal shot contains an inactivated form of the vaccine, which cannot make you sick. The seasonal shot is recommended for most individuals over 6 months old.
“The viruses in the inactivated seasonal shot have been killed, so they cannot give you the flu,” said Kottke.
The nasal spray, which contains a live, but very weak strain of the flu, is recommended for healthy individuals, ages 2 to 49. It is not recommended for individuals over the age 50 or under 2.
“Although I strongly recommend getting the flu vaccine, it is important to recognize that the flu vaccine is not intended for everyone, particularly individuals with severe allergic reactions to eggs. It is important to talk to your doctor if you are concerned about the potential side effects from the vaccine,” said Kottke.
Fact or Fiction: I got the flu vaccine last year, so I don’t have to worry this year.
The influenza virus that causes the flu is constantly evolving, and the most common strains of the virus can change from year to year.
In addition, the CDC reports that the antibodies that protect you from the flu decline after a year, particularly among the elderly.
“Even if you got the flu vaccine last year, you are still at risk for getting it again this year, so it is important to get a flu shot once each season,” said Preston.
Fact or Fiction: I’m a healthy adult. I can fight the flu off on my own, so I don’t need a flu shot.
Even if you are a healthy adult, if you contract the flu then you can start spreading the virus up to a full day before you exhibit symptoms, and for 5-7 days afterwards.
“This means that even if you are healthy enough to fight off the flu on your own, you could be putting others at risk of infection without even realizing it. This is why we recommend the flu vaccine for everyone who is able to take it,” said Preston.
The flu vaccine is also strongly recommended for pregnant women and adults who work with the elderly, children or in health care facilities.
Fact or Fiction: It January. It is too late to get the flu vaccine.
In fact, the timing of flu season is unpredictable – it can come as early as October or as late as May. The most common months for flu season are January and February, but everyone is encouraged to get a flu shot as soon as it becomes available in their area.
“Many people believe that it’s useless to get a vaccine this late into flu season. However, getting the shot now can protect you from catching it further down the road. Although this year’s flu season is well under way, don’t let that stop you from getting vaccinated,” said Preston. “It’s never too late to get the flu shot. People need to make sure to do it as soon as possible to prevent catching the flu from this point on.”
About Everest College
Everest College’s Colorado Springs campus, located at 1815 Jet Wing Drive, offers a variety of programs for full-time and part-time students, including massage therapy, medical administrative assistant, medical assistant, criminal justice, accounting and business. Everest has schools throughout the U.S. and Canada, and is owned by Corinthian Colleges, Inc., one of the largest post-secondary education companies in North America. For more information, visit www.everest.edu. For more information about our graduation rates, the median debt of students who completed the program and other important information, please visit our website at www.everest.edu/disclosures.