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Inoculating Against Flu Myths

This flu season, you could protect yourself from influenza by holding your breath on elevators and avoiding handrails, doorknobs, faucets, arm rests, keyboards, money, mail and anyone wishing to shake your hand. Or, you could get a flu shot.

Vaccines are now stronger and more effective than ever, and a flu shot today offers protection until the end of the flu season, which usually fades by April or May. Unfortunately, too few of us are getting vaccinated.

Influenza claims the lives of anywhere from 3,000 to 50,000 people annually, depending on the severity of the season.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that everyone six months of age and older be vaccinated against the flu every year, with rare exceptions. But fewer than half of eligible people got the flu vaccine last year. The CDC estimates that, if 70 percent of them had received a flu shot, approximately 4.4 million illnesses and 30,000 hospitalizations might have been prevented.

Why such a low vaccination rate? It turns out that myths are just as infectious as the flu. As misinformation spreads from person to person, it wreaks havoc on public health.

Myth #1: Getting the flu shot will give you the flu

The flu shot does not cause the flu.

It takes about two weeks after receiving the flu shot for your body to produce the antibodies needed to fight off the flu. So if you get sick during that time, it could mean you were already coming down with something and that the flu shot didn’t have enough time to take effect.

Myth #2: The flu shot doesn’t protect against the current flu strain.

While it is true that the flu can be hard to predict, the vaccine available locally is formulated based on surveillance: When it’s summer here, it’s winter in Rio, and we keep an eye on what bug is plaguing the Southern Hemisphere.

Myth #3: Hand washing is more effective than the vaccine.

Hand washing is a very important part of flu prevention, but it only takes you so far. Every year, Hoag’s urgent care centers are filled with flu patients who relied on soap and water alone.

The vaccine is low-cost (or in many settings, free); it is safe, effective and easily available everywhere from Hoag’s urgent care centers to local drug stores. So, to avoid the flu, you could hide from humanity between October and May. Or you could roll up your sleeve and protect yourself from a preventable, and miserable, disease.