Flu Facts and Common Misconceptions

Influenza or “the flu” is a disease that is caused by a virus and is more prevalent in the fall and winter months.  It is spread through droplets that are made when you cough, sneeze and talk.  It can also be spread by touching surfaces that may have the flu virus on them and then touching your mouth, nose, or eyes.  Did you know that you can pass the flu virus on to others before you even know you have it?  You can also be contagious for 5-7 days after you start having symptoms.

There are many things that you can do to keep yourself and your family as healthy as possible.  It is very important to get the flu vaccination and one of the best ways to reduce your risk of getting sick with the flu.  Washing your hands for at least 20 seconds with soap and water or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer frequently is the number one way to help prevent illness.  You will want to avoid close contact with those who are sick and ensure that you avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.  Practicing good hand hygiene like covering your mouth and nose with a tissue if you cough or sneeze and then throwing the tissue away is another good habit to help keep those around you healthy. 

If you become ill with flu-like symptoms such as fever, chills, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches, and fatigue, it is best to stay home if at all possible to help reduce the spread of the virus.  It is recommended to stay home until your symptoms resolve and you have been fever-free for at least 24 hours or for 5-7 days, whichever is longer.  If you come to the clinic to see your physician, you will want to put a mask on and wash your hands with hand sanitizer to help keep those around you well.  Remember to drink plenty of water and get rest to help your body fight the flu.

Here are some common misconceptions about the flu:

I got the flu shot once and got sick – The flu vaccine is made from an “inactive” or “killed” virus which means it loses its ability to cause the disease.  It is important to remember that the flu vaccine only protects you from the flu and not from other respiratory viruses that may have similar symptoms to the flu.  If you were diagnosed with the flu shortly after you received the vaccination, it was most likely because you were already exposed to the flu virus prior to getting vaccinated.  It can take your body up to 2 weeks to build immunity to the influenza virus!  Some people may have a reaction to the vaccination such as redness, tenderness, or swelling at the injection site or a low-grade fever which should resolve after 1-2 days.

Getting 2 doses of the flu shot will give me more protection – Studies have shown that getting multiple flu vaccinations in the same flu season will not give you more protection than getting the one recommended vaccination.  This is true for all ages except for small children who have never received the flu vaccination before.  These children will require 2 doses of the immunization for the first time.

The stomach flu is the same thing as the flu – symptoms that have been commonly grouped together as the “stomach flu” such as nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea are caused by a completely different source.  These symptoms can be caused by bacteria, viruses, and parasites.  The flue is caused by a respiratory virus.

Sources: “About Flu.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 5 Sept. 2019, https://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/index.html.  

“Healthy Habits to Help Prevent Flu.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 7 Nov. 2019, https://www.cdc.gov/flu/prevent/actions-prevent-flu.htm.

“Who Needs a Flu Vaccine and When.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 11 Oct. 2019, https://www.cdc.gov/flu/prevent/vaccinations.htm.

Written by Kassie Gray, RN; GRMC Infection Control, Employee Health, and Education

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