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Put Those Pesky Flu Myths to Rest

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DES MOINES, Iowa --  Flu season is officially here and the Polk County Health Department is in full swing vaccinating people with their walk-in clinic and community flu clinics.

Every year, their staff gets asked questions regarding the flu and the vaccine. Three common questions get asked every year:  “I heard the flu shot can give you the flu,” or “do I need a flu shot every year?” and even “why is it so important to get a flu shot?”

Well, it’s time to put those pesky myths to rest and learn the truths about the flu vaccine. Channel 13 tracked down Nola Aigner, Public Information Officer/Health Educator, with the Polk County Health Department to get the answers to common questions about the flu.

Question: Can the flu shot can give you the flu?

Answer: “No, the flu shot or mist cannot give you the flu. The flu viruses in the flu shot are inactivated or dead and the viruses in the mist are weakened, which means they can’t give you the illness. After you initially get the shot, you might have soreness, redness or swelling in the spot where the shot was given. This doesn’t last very long, normally only two days. The initial soreness is because your body’s immune system is reacting to a foreign substance entering the body. Sometimes you might also experience some mild side effects such as a low-grade fever, headache and muscle aches. This is often because your body’s immune system is making proactive antibodies to the killed viruses in the vaccine and weakened viruses in the mist. These antibodies allow your body to fight the flu.”

Question: Do I need a flu shot every year?

Answer: “Yes, the flu shot or mist is recommended for everyone six months and older to get annually. There are two main reasons why you need a flu vaccine every year. The first is flu viruses are constantly changing, so flu vaccines need to be updated each flu season to protect against the most recent and common flu viruses. Second, your vaccine protection against the flu weakens over time making it possible for you to become infected with the illness. The vaccine you received last year may not protect you from this year’s flu strain. Receiving your flu shot or mist every year is needed to protect yourself from the flu.”

Question: Why is it so important to get the flu vaccine?

Answer: “The flu is a very serious and contagious illness that hospitalizes more than 200,000 people including 20,000 children younger than five years of age every year. Only 50% of people get vaccinated, so anyone who has not had a flu shot or mist is at risk for getting the flu. The elderly, young children, pregnant women and individuals with chronic health conditions are more susceptible to serious health complications if they contract the illness. If in fact, you do get the flu, you can expect to be sick for up to two weeks. Symptoms of the flu include: a high fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, muscle or body aches, headaches and extreme fatigue. Some people may even experience vomiting and diarrhea, however, this is more common in children than adults. The difference between influenza symptoms and cold symptoms is that influenza symptoms can come on quickly, last significantly longer, and have the potential to develop into serious conditions, such as pneumonia.”

Fast Facts:

  • Fist bump instead of shaking hands. This helps to reduce your chance of coming in contact with flu germs.
  • Make sure to wash your hands frequently and thoroughly. Use warm water, soap and rub those hands to create friction for 20 seconds.
  • Don’t share food, drinks, chapstick, toys or towels with anyone who is sick.
  • If you are sick, stay home from work or school. The flu can spread very easily from one person to another. It’s best to stay at home, so you don’t get others sick who may be more at risk for complications than you are.

The Polk County Health Department will be holding many community flu clinics around the county this year. They accept major health insurances, otherwise the flu shot or mist is $20. If you can’t make it to one of their flu clinics, stop by the Health Department and visit their walk-in flu clinics. Thier hours are Monday – Friday 9:00 am – 4:00 pm and until 6:00 pm on Tuesdays.