While flu season typically doesn’t begin until November in British Columbia, family physicians like Dr. Ali Ghahary are already seeing a spike in cold and flu viruses amongst their patients. While most patients diagnosed with the flu will make a full recovery on their own, the flu can also hit certain people harder depending on age (younger children and seniors, in particular) and other underlying or pre-existing health conditions. Because of this, Dr. Ghahary will often recommend getting a flu shot. The flu vaccine works by creating antibodies that protect and subdue against different strains of influenza. That being said, it usually takes at least 2 weeks for these antibodies to form, therefore if you are exposed to the flu before the 2 weeks are up, it’s still possible that you could develop the flu. While the flu vaccine is generally safe, it’s something you should avoid if you have an allergy to eggs or if you are allergic to any of the ingredients used in the vaccination itself, such as gelatin.
When it comes to the flu shot, there are also certain myths and misconceptions surrounding it. For anyone who may be wary about getting a flu shot, Dr. Ghahary helps separate fact from fiction below.
1. “You won’t get the flu if you get a flu shot!”
As mentioned, it takes at least 2 weeks for antibodies of the flu vaccine to go into effect, therefore it is highly plausible that you could still develop the flu within this 2 week timeframe. Even when those 2 weeks have passed, it’s important to note that the flu shot still isn’t 100% effective. Think of the flu shot like a helmet or other protective gear. While you can still develop an injury, wearing protective gear will help reduce your risk of injury; and while you can still get sick, getting the flu vaccine may also potentially decrease the severity and length of your illness and its symptoms.
2. “The flu shot gave me the flu!”
This is something that’s often said but isn’t true. The flu vaccine cannot give you the flu, as your body actually registers the vaccine as a dead virus. While it’s very common to develop certain side-effects that might make you feel like you have or are coming down with the flu, such as sluggishness, these side-effects are generally quite mild and will go away in a day or two.
3. “The flu can be prevented naturally.”
While it’s certainly a good idea to include supplements such as vitamins and minerals to give your immune system an added boost (including increasing your intake of fruits that are rich in vitamin C), that’s not enough to actually ward off the flu virus all together. The best way you can prevent the flu, says Dr. Ali Ghahary, is by making sure you’re practicing good hygiene habits (such as washing your hands with soap and water frequently), and by getting the flu vaccine.
4. “I’m healthy therefore I’m less likely to get the flu.”
Whether you’re someone with a weak immune system or the healthiest person on the planet, we’re all at risk of developing the flu. While being healthy (such as engaging in regular physical activity and eating healthy meals) certainly decreases your risk of illness, it won’t prevent illness from occurring.
5. “If those around me got the flu shot, I probably don’t need one.”
This is one of the biggest misconceptions surrounding the flu vaccine, and one of the reasons why health officials are seeing less people getting vaccinated against influenza. Just because other people around you have gotten the flu shot doesn’t mean you don’t or shouldn’t get one, or that you are at any more of a decreased risk of developing the flu had those around you not received a flu vaccine. The flu virus can spread wherever you go, meaning you’re not going to be fully protected.
If you have anymore questions about the flu vaccine, you can always book an appointment with your family physician or visit your nearest walk-in clinic or pharmacy. If you’re interested in getting a flu shot, you can find a list of facilities offering the vaccine by visiting Immunize BC.