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Mythbusting: Separating flu fact from flu fiction

“It will give me flu”

“I’m pregnant so I can’t have it”

“I had it last year so I don’t need it again”

“It’s too late in the year to have it”

These are just a small number of misconceptions around the flu vaccine which convince some people who are eligible for a free vaccine not to have it.

These flu myths often spread faster than the virus itself so, with that in mind, we’ve put together this myth-busting article to separate flu fact from flu fiction so you can make an informed decision about whether to have the vaccine.

The annual flu vaccine is the best protection we have against flu so if you are eligible for a free flu vaccine you should book an appointment now.

Myth one: The flu vaccine will give me flu

This is probably the most common reason given for not having the flu vaccine but it is simply not true. The adult flu vaccine contains inactivated flu viruses, which means the vaccine can’t give you flu.

You might have a sore arm after having the flu jab, while some people experience a slight temperature and aching muscles for a few days afterwards. Other reactions can occur, but only in rare cases.

WATCH What you need to know: The 2018-19 flu vaccine explained video: https://youtu.be/v8cwlNwxbpw

Myth two: I had my flu vaccine last year so I’m already protected

You need to have a flu jab every year, as the viruses that cause flu can change every year. This is why new vaccines are created every year to protect against these new strains.

The vaccine you’re given usually provides protection for most strain of flu for that winter season only.

WATCH Flu vaccine guidance for people aged 65 and over video: https://youtu.be/XPfEICSkqYk

Myth three: I can’t have the flu vaccine because I’m pregnant

On the contrary, it is important to have the flu jab if you’re pregnant because it will protect you and your baby. The vaccine is safe to have at any stage of pregnancy.

Pregnant women have a higher chance of developing complications, such as bronchitis or pneumonia, if they get flu.

It could also cause your baby to be born prematurely or underweight, and may even lead to stillbirth or death.

WATCH Having the flu jab during pregnancy video https://youtu.be/y2yduWwJvGY

Myth four: I’ve had flu recently so I don’t need to be vaccinated

You need to have a flu jab even if you’ve already had flu this winter.

Flu is caused by several viruses and the immunity your body has naturally developed after having flu will only protect against one of these strains.

Also, what you were laid low by might not necessarily have been flu.

Myth five: Flu is just like having a heavy cold

While colds and flu share some similar symptoms (eg: blocked nose, sore throat, high temperature), make no mistake: a bad bout of flu is much worse than a cold.

Colds cause more nasal problems than flu, while fever, fatigue and muscle aches are more likely and more severe with flu. If you get complications caused by flu, you could become seriously ill and have to go to hospital.

Whereas cold symptoms normally develop over one or two days, flu symptoms come on suddenly and sometimes severely. 

Cold sufferers usually begin to feel better after a couple of days while it takes around a week to recover from flu, although sufferers might feel tired for much longer.

Myth six: Flu can be treated with antibiotics

Antibiotics are prescribed to treat bacterial infections, but aren't effective in combatting viral infections like the flu. That said, a bacterial infection may occur as a result of having the flu, in which case you may be given antibiotics.

You can take paracetamol or anti-inflammatory medicines such as ibuprofen to lower your temperature and relieve aches.

Myth seven: Vitamin C can protect against flu

While vitamin C helps to keep cells healthy and maintain healthy skin and bones, it doesn’t protect against flu.

Myth eight: It’s too late to have the flu jab this year

It’s best to have the flu vaccination as soon as it’s available (normally October or November) but you can have it later in the winter. The adage ‘better late than never’ rings true here, but it’s better to be vaccinated as early as possible.

Also, it’s worth remembering that it may take 10 to 14 days for your immunity to build up fully after you have had the flu vaccine.

Myth nine: Children can’t have the flu vaccination

Flu can be very unpleasant for children but the good news is that they can have the flu vaccine – despite what you might have heard on the grapevine.

The nasal spray vaccine is free for children aged two or three, as well as children in reception class and years one to five. Children aged up to 17 with long-term health conditions are also eligible.

Myth 10: The flu vaccine won’t protect me against swine flu

This year’s flu vaccine protects against H1N1 swine flu virus, as well as two other flu viruses. It has been designed to protect against swine flu because public health experts expect it to be circulating this year.

A doctor’s view: Dr Kevin Smith, Executive Director of Primary Care and Population Health at the NHS Vale of York Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), said: “Real flu is a horrible illness, even for the fittest people but it can be a really serious illness for some of us, particularly older people, pregnant women, young children and those with chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease. Flu is easy to catch but even easier to prevent. The annual flu vaccine is the best protection we have against flu so if you are eligible for a free flu vaccine you should book an appointment now.

“There’s a misconception that you can catch flu from the vaccine but this is simply not true. Some people may have a sore arm, mild fever or aching muscles for a couple of days after they get the jab, but these are nothing compared to the misery and inconvenience of real flu.

“It only takes a few minutes to get protected with your annual flu vaccine. I’d encourage anyone with questions about the annual flu vaccine to ask their GP, local community pharmacist or midwife.”

Visit www.nhs.uk/flu for more information

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