Myths about the seasonal flu shot

Flu shot mythsOne of the best defenses anyone can have against influenza, or the flu, is to get vaccinated. Barnes-Jewish Hospital offers a week-long free flu shot clinic in the hospital the first week of October. This clinic helps protect the St. Louis community with more than 30,000 members obtaining extra protection.

Myth 1: The seasonal flu shot can give you the flu.

The seasonal flu shot does not contain live influenza virus, so it cannot give you the flu. The flu virus contained in the vaccine is attenuated, meaning it is a dead virus and is no longer infectious.

The nasal mist used as an alternative to the flu shot (FluMist) does contain live flu virus, but the virus has been specially engineered to remove the parts that actually spread the illness.

Some people may suffer flu-like symptoms after receiving a flu shot, such as aching and fever. These are common side effects of the flu shot and are not actual symptoms of a flu virus infection. However, since a person can also carry the virus before showing symptoms, there is a chance that they had already been infected with the flu prior to receiving the shot.

Myth 2: The flu shot won’t protect me – I was vaccinated last year and got sick anyway.

Strains of the flu virus are constantly evolving, so the flu shot you get each season is different from the one you got the previous year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tracks the different strains of the flu virus and develops a new vaccine for each season. The seasonal flu shot is designed to protect people from the most common form of flu predicted for the year. If you received a flu shot one year and still got sick, that does not mean the vaccine this year will not protect you.

Myth 3: Flu is only really dangerous to the elderly or the very young.

Although those populations may be more susceptible to the deadlier effects of the flu, everyone is at risk of the dangerous effects of the flu. Prolonged fevers and dehydration from the flu can lead to brain damage and organ failure, even in a healthy adult.

In addition to protecting yourself, you’re contributing to “herd immunity” when you get your seasonal flu shot. A mild case of flu that may just be an annoyance to you could be deadly if you spread it to others. By decreasing your own chances of getting the flu, you decrease the spread of disease for everyone.

Myth 4: I am pregnant, so I should not get the flu shot because it might harm my unborn baby.

The CDC recommends that all women who are pregnant during flu season receive the seasonal flu shot. According to the CDC, influenza is more likely to cause severe illness and death in pregnant women than in non-pregnant women. The effects of the flu virus on a pregnant woman’s immune system, heart and lungs can endanger her life and the life of her unborn child.

In addition to protecting themselves, pregnant women who receive the flu shot can pass the benefits of protection on to their babies after birth. The mother’s antibodies can pass through her bloodstream to the baby before birth, so the baby is protected during the early months of life when he or she is too young to receive a flu vaccine.

Myth 5: The flu shot contains ingredients that can be harmful to my child.

Some versions of the seasonal flu shot contain thimerosal, a preservative that has been part of the controversy around vaccines and autism. Although there is no scientific evidence that thimerosal in vaccines is directly linked to autism, a seasonal vaccine is available without thimerosal. Children six months and older are recommended to get vaccinated.

If you attend a community flu shot clinic at Barnes-Jewish Hospital or Barnes-Jewish West County Hospital, all vaccines are preservative-free, without thimerosal.

To see the list of dates and times of the Barnes-Jewish Hospital community flu shot clinics, visit our flu shot page.

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Category: Flu

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Barnes-Jewish Hospital at Washington University Medical Center is the largest hospital in Missouri and the largest private employer in the St. Louis region. An affiliated teaching hospital of Washington University School of Medicine, Barnes-Jewish Hospital has a 1,800 member medical staff with many who are recognized as "Best Doctors in America." They are supported by residents, interns and fellows, in addition to nurses, technicians and other health-care professionals.

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