One of the most common myths about the flu, is that receiving the vaccine will cause you to become sick. This is false. The flu shot contains an inactivated copy of the existing flu vaccine. Your immune system identifies this “copy” and uses it to prepare against the actual flu strain. This process usually takes anywhere from 7-14 days, so if there is a case when someone gets sick after the shot, it most likely happens because the body hasn’t had time to process the vaccine and protect itself. It is also possible for a person to still catch a cold after the flu shot. These are two different viruses; the flu shot does not protect against a common cold. The cold may have similar symptoms to a flu including runny nose, cough and sore throat, however they are much milder than the flu. The flu usually comes on rapidly and immediately results in body fever and aches, whereas the cold may come a lot slower. In addition, each year there can be a different active flu virus strand. Companies begin preparing flu vaccines months before the flu season so that they are ready for patients by the end of the summer. It is possible, that either the flu strand mutated to a different strand, or there is a mismatch with the vaccine and the identified strand. For example, the swine flu strand may be produced in the vaccine, but the bird flu strand ends up becoming the prevalent strand during flu season. This would make the vaccine ineffective. So, there are many reasons why the flu vaccine may not work but it will not make you sick.
2.) I feel sick. Should I get the shot? When is the best time to get it?
Unless you are seriously immunocompromised or have severe allergies to active ingredients within the flu shot, it is highly recommended to get the flu shot. People with mild colds or allergies are ok as well, however if you have a moderate or severe illness, it is better to wait until after you are recovered. Children and the elderly are especially encouraged as they have weaker immune systems and are more susceptible to the flu. The vaccine is the first line of defense against the flu and as more people are vaccinated the chance of spreading the flu decreases. The Center for Disease Control recommends that everyone is vaccinated by the end of October. This gives your body the 1 to 2-week time period needed to build up immunity by the peak of flu season in November.
3.) I think I have the flu. What do I do?
Two words. STAY HOME. The flu is highly contagious, so it is best to stay in a confined area. However, for vulnerable people (geriatrics and children), medical doctors should be contacted as soon as possible. There are antiviral medications that may be given to shorten the time period of the flu. Drinking plenty of fluids and remaining hydrated is essential, as well as handwashing and wearing a facemask and coughing into the elbow. Because it is a virus, there is no cure, and it must run its course. So, treating the symptoms and taking precautions to keep it from spreading is the most effective way to control the flu.