Debunking myths about the flu and its vaccine

Winter is on its way, and with it, comes the inevitable and dreaded flu. There are many misconceptions surrounding in-fluenza (commonly referred to as “flu”) and the vaccine. Here are a few that have been discredited:

Myth: Flu is not that serious.

Fact: Flu is actually a severe and possibly life-threatening disease, which kills more than 500 000 people worldwide every year.

Myth: It is natural and almost expected to get the flu every year as it does its rounds.

Fact: Flu can be avoided by getting the flu vaccine.

Myth: The flu shot causes flu.

Fact: Impossible. The vaccine actually contains killed virus particles. Only minor side effects might occur such as a headache or a low-grade fever.

Myth: The flu vaccine is only for the elderly and high-risk patients.

Fact: Flu affects people of all ages.

Myth: I was vaccinated last year, so I am good to go.

Fact: Every year a new vaccine is manufactured based on that year’s prevalent flu strains that are circulating. You are only safe if you are vaccinated every year.

When to get vaccinated

“The sooner the better, before the winter flu season hits us,” says Mogologolo Phasha, chairman of the Independent Community Pharmacy Association (ICPA). The ICPA urges the public to go to their nearest pharmacy to be vaccinated to protect their health and to curb the spread of influenza.

“Many people die every year as a result of complications from flu, with most of the deaths occurring in people that are considered high risk,” explains Mr Phasha. “Those considered high risk are pregnant women; children between the ages of six months and five years; people older than 65; those with HIV and Aids; chronic disease sufferers; and those who work and live in densely populated areas and high traffic sites – teachers, students and cashiers in busy retail outlets are examples.”

The ICPA advises that being vaccinated not only protects you from the flu but also your community. Flu can have a severe effect on the elderly, young children and others whose immune systems are compromised.

How do flu vaccines work?

Flu vaccines cause antibodies to develop in the body about two weeks after vaccination. These antibodies provide protection against infection from the vi-ruses that are contained in the vaccine.

The vaccine in-creases a person’s de-fence against flu. It works by introducing very small amounts of viral components into the body. These stimulate the production of antibodies (cells de-signed to attack the virus), which stay in the body to attack the same virus in the future.

The vaccine is used to prevent flu and is developed for those who want to reduce their chances of contracting it. Protect yourself and your family from flu by washing your hands often, covering coughs and sneezes with a tissue and staying at home when you are ill so that you don’t spread germs.