Dr Jason Delaney from Mount Sheridan Medical Practice discusses some of the common myths about the common cold and the flu.
FACT OR MYTH: You can catch the flu from the flu vaccination
Some people ask whether you can catch the flu from having a flu vaccination and this is a myth. There is no way that you can catch the flu from the flu vaccination. The vaccination that we use is an inactivated virus, which means the virus is dead. So, we are not giving you an infection with the immunisation so there is no way that you can actually catch the virus. The issue is though a lot of people say that they have had the flu needle and a few days later they got sick and the trouble there is that we give the flu needle in winter when there are a lot of colds and flus spreading around anyway so a lot of people will catch a cold and it just happens to be a few days after the flu needle. But the flu needle itself can’t give you influenza.
FACT OR MYTH: Young people don’t need the flu needle
Some people say, young people don’t need to get the flu needle and I would probably put this as a fact. If you are young and healthy you don’t need to get the flu needle but if you want to prevent yourself from catching the flu, potentially missing time off of work and being sick for a week then you are certainly able to get the flu needle and it can help you stay healthy during winter.
FACT OR MYTH: Flu symptoms include Gastrointestinal Symptoms
Some people ask if flu symptoms include gastrointestinal symptoms and the answer is yes. In fact, it is more common with influenza than the common cold to get gastrointestinal symptoms like feeling nauseous and even vomiting. So it is a common part of influenza. Some people will talk about stomach flu and really they are talking about a viral gastroenteritis. So if you’re only symptoms are diarrhoea and vomiting, that’s not influenza but if you have a cough, runny nose, fevers, aches and pains and you are feeling a little sick in the stomach then that all can be due to influenza.
FACT OR MYTH: Pregnant women can’t get the flu needle
Some people say, pregnant woman can’t get the flu needle and this is very much a myth. The flu needle has been given to a lot of pregnant women and has been shown to be perfectly safe. More importantly, we know that women when they are pregnant are at more risk of getting severe influenza and getting the flu needle in your pregnancy is the best way to protect yourself and your unborn child against becoming very unwell during your pregnancy, which is a risk to your pregnancy and your child.
FACT OR MYTH: You can avoid the flu by washing your hands regularly
Some people say you can avoid the flu by washing your hands regularly. Well, this is an absolute fact. By washing your hands at least five times a day you can almost half the risk of getting influenza so it is a very simple way to reduce your risk of influenza. If you can’t wash your hands, then using the antibacterial washes or wipe is another option to reduce your risk.
FACT OR MYTH: If you get the flu, did the flu needle not work?
People ask if you get the flu did the influenza vaccine then not work? This is a more complex question, the answer is yes and no. Sometimes we give the flu needle, if you have already been exposed to the influenza virus then you may still get the flu as the flu takes one to two weeks to start working. So, you can get a flu after you have had the flu needle. A lot of people though often think they have caught the flu after an immunisation but in fact what they have actually caught is a common cold and it can be very hard to tell the two apart with absolute certainty without doing tests to prove what infection you have got. The last issue is that the flu needle isn’t 100% effective. We know that it probably only reduces your risk by about a half in terms of getting influenza during the winter season. So, the answer is yes you can get influenza after you have had the influenza virus vaccine but it does reduce your risk of getting the flu.
FACT OR MYTH: Will the flu vaccine compromise my immune system?
So, the question is whether getting the flu vaccine will compromise your immune system over the longer term and are you then more at risk of getting influenza in the future. Well, the answer is no. The evidence is that if you get the flu vaccine every year, in fact in subsequent years you are still slightly less likely to get influenza than those people who never got the flu vaccine in the first place. The other important point is that you don’t want to get influenza. Influenza is a severe disease and for a healthy young person, that might mean that they are just in bed for a week and then recover but if you are someone who is at risk of severe disease then there is a mortality associated with getting influenza. The first point is that I wouldn’t want to get influenza. Second point being, if you get the flu vaccine, you will still get ongoing protection against influenza. But your best protection is getting the flu needle every year because the flu virus changes. Each year there are different strains that are circulating around that are the most likely strains to cause illness so we change the vaccine every year to match those strains. Also, the vaccine that you get starts to wear off over time so the best option is boosting it every year.
FACT OR MYTH: If I have a high fever for 1-2 days with the flu, do I need antibiotics?
Some people ask if you have a high fever for one or two days, with the flu does that mean you need antibiotics. And the answer is, not necessarily. Influenza is a severer disease, where you often are going to be sick for up to seven days with the illness. So the fever by itself isn’t an indication for antibiotics but if you have got the flu and you are feeling a bit sicker, you have ongoing fevers, you’re coughing a lot and you are unwell. That would be a sign to me to go and get checked whether you have got a complication of influenza. Influenza increases your chance of pneumonia and as a doctor, we can listen to your chest and make sure you don’t have one of the complications of influenza. If you develop pneumonia then that would be an indication for antibiotics in that situation. Unfortunately, influenza is a severe disease where you will have fevers for a number of days and that by itself doesn’t need antibiotics but it is hard for you to know where you have got pneumonia or other infections so if you feeling really unwell then you should come to your doctor and get checked.