Think you know everything about keeping your family healthy during flu season? Think again. According to the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, many parents still aren’t getting the right information when it comes to cold and flu prevention. “This represents a significant public health milestone, but there is still work to be done to ensure that the nearly 74 million children recommended to receive the influenza vaccine each year are protected,” said Carol J. Baker, M.D., chair of the Childhood Influenza Immunization Coalition, a group established by NFID in 2007 to increase awareness among healthcare professionals and parents about influenza and the benefits of annual vaccination. Here, six major flu myths—plus, how to keep your family safer.
Myth: You don’t need to vaccinate your family every year.
Fact: Vaccination is the first, and most important, step to protect your entire family against influenza (flu), each year. The CDC recommends annual vaccination for everyone 6 months and older. In fact, the immune protection from the flu vaccine declines over time, so vaccination is necessary annually to ensure complete protection.
Myth: You or your child can get the flu from the flu shot.
Fact: Influenza vaccination is safe, effective and time tested; you cannot get the flu from the vaccine. The influenza vaccine contains virus strains that are either inactivated (as in the injected vaccine) or weakened (as in the nasal spray) and matched to the most commonly circulating influenza viruses that year. However, it takes two weeks for the vaccine to become effective, and it’s possible that within those two weeks an individual – not yet fully protected by the vaccine – can develop influenza. That’s why it’s important to get vaccinated as soon as the vaccine is available in your community.
Myth: If your child is healthy, he or she doesn’t need a flu shot.
Fact: Even healthy kids are at risk for getting sick from influenza. Vaccination is necessary this season even if you were vaccinated last year. Because immunity to the vaccine weakens, annual vaccination is a critical step to stay healthy. The CDC recommends that children aged 6 months through 8 years of age who did not receive at least one dose of the vaccine last season, should get two doses of vaccine approximately four weeks apart.
Myth: The flu is no more serious than a bad cold or stomach bug.
Fact: Influenza is more serious than the common cold and in mild cases causes high fever, head and body aches, coughing for days, severe fatigue for up to two weeks or more. Case in point: An average of 20,000 children under the age of 5 are hospitalized due to influenza complications.
Myth: You shouldn’t get the flu vaccine if you’re pregnant.
Fact: Moms-to-be are more prone to severe illness from the flu, including hospitalizations and even death, and the flu vaccination is the best and safest form of protection. Because the flu vaccine is not recommended for children younger than 6 months of age, pregnant women who get vaccinated during pregnancy pass their immunity to their newborn baby, which helps protect them until they can be vaccinated. Keep in mind that pregnant women are not recommended for the nasal spray vaccine.
Myth: There is nothing you can do if your child gets the flu.
Fact: Know the symptoms. If your child does get sick, contact your doctor immediately to discuss treatment options. Antiviral drugs can make the illness milder, make your child feel better faster, and may also prevent serious influenza complications.
Learn more about protecting your family from the flu at preventchildhoodinfluenza.org.