When flu season hits, what usually follows is a barrage of flu myths and misinformation.
The flu, which is often accompanied by a fever, a cough, a sore throat and congestion, is a severe illness that kills between 20,000 and 30,000 Americans each year — including children.
“Some people feel that it’s not a big deal and they can tough it out, but some kids are hospitalized due to pneumonia because of the flu, and others die every year because of it,” said Dr. Jonathan Miller, general pediatrician and Medical Director of Value-Based Care at Nemours Children’s Health System. “It’s a very serious disease.”
The flu can lead to pneumonia, inflammation of the heart or brain, organ failure, or sepsis, all of which can result in death.
That’s why it’s so important to take proper precautions against catching or spreading the flu, including getting the influenza vaccine and staying home when you’re sick. But it’s also important to know what’s true — and what’s not — when it comes to the flu and flu prevention.
Here are seven myths about the flu and why you should do your part this year to prevent spreading it.
Myth: The flu vaccine causes the flu
The flu shot does not cause the flu, nor does it cause any extreme side effects. But it is the single most effective way to prevent the spread of the flu.
“Fortunately, there are huge bodies of evidence that the flu vaccine is very safe,” Miller said. “We feel very confident that the flu vaccine is safe and effective for kids.”
Any side effects are, in fact, very mild. The most common include a low-grade fever or mild soreness in the arm.
“Each of us at the hospital gets vaccinated each year, and no one calls out from getting sick or having side effects,” Miller said. “We see the evidence that thousands of people get the vaccine every year without a problem.”
Myth: The flu is just a stomach bug and is spread that way
While diarrhea can occasionally accompany the flu, the flu is not a stomach bug.
“A lot of people have a misconception that it’s a stomach bug, and they think of it in the way that stomach bugs spread,” Miller said. “But the flu is mostly a respiratory virus — runny nose, coughing — and it’s spread through droplets, secretions and mucus by touching things that people with the virus have touched.”
To prevent the spread of flu, use an alcohol-based sanitizer, cover your coughs and wash your hands frequently.
Myth: Kids can’t be vaccinated against the flu
Children can receive the flu vaccination, and it’s highly encouraged. The only ones who cannot receive the vaccine are young infants.
“Children who are under 6 months old cannot get vaccinated,” said Judy Guidash, a registered nurse who works with Miller at Nemours to help combat the flu. “The best protection for your baby under 6 months old is for everyone around them to get vaccinated, especially parents, siblings and other caregivers, and to avoid contact with people who are sick or haven’t received the flu vaccine. Children 2 years old and older have the option of receiving the flu vaccine as a nasal mist. This is a great option for children who have a strong dislike for needles.”
Nemours is working to increase the flu vaccination rate across Delaware by offering the vaccine in the emergency room and in the inpatient hospital setting, hosting vaccine clinics, increasing access to the vaccine and focusing on education and awareness of the importance of flu vaccination for children.
“This is a very important initiative to increase the vaccine rate for the whole state in an effort to avoid severe illness and death,” Guidash said.
Myth: The flu vaccine and other vaccines cause autism
This is absolutely untrue. Medical research has repeatedly debunked any reports that vaccines — whether they’re to protect against the flu or any other disease — can cause autism.
“There is just no truth to that,” Miller said. “By avoiding giving your child a vaccine, you are putting him or her at risk for a number of infections that can cause serious illness.”
Myth: Those with chronic diseases or who are pregnant should avoid the flu shot
People who have a chronic disease — such as asthma, diabetes, or heart disease — or who are pregnant, should make sure to get a flu shot.
“Serious complications of influenza disease can occur, especially in these groups of people,” Guidash said. “It’s very important they have a flu shot at the beginning of the flu season.”
Myth: You only need to get the flu vaccine once in your lifetime
Every year, the flu is different. And every year, the flu vaccine is different as well.
Each year’s flu shot provides protection against the strains of influenza virus that are expected to be most common during the flu season. You should get a flu vaccine every year and as early as you can.
“The myth is to wait until the peak of flu season, which is usually January and February, but it’s much safer to get the vaccine earlier in the season,” Miller said.
Myth: It’s no one’s business
Actually, it’s everyone’s business if you don’t get a flu vaccine. Children younger than 6 months and those who have severe, life-threatening allergies to the flu vaccine or any of its ingredients cannot get a flu shot, and they’re at risk if they’re exposed to someone who has the flu.
“The flu vaccine isn’t just about you,” Miller said. “Influenza disease is a public health and safety issue for people who are unable to get the vaccine, or are at high risk if they contract the virus. It can kill them. Get the flu vaccine to protect them, and do it now.”
This article originally appeared on DelawareOnline.