May 1, 2016

Winter is coming: Make sure you get your flu shot

In a severe year, around 20 per cent of Australians can become infected with influenza and even healthy, young adults may take several weeks to fully recover. Getting vaccinated is the single, most effective way to minimise the risk of contracting the disease. The Influenza Specialist Group (ISG) has listed some common myths and misconceptions about influenza and the influenza vaccination.

Myths and misconceptions – influenza and vaccination

Flu shotMyth 1: Influenza is not a serious disease

Fact: Influenza (commonly known as flu) is a highly contagious and potentially life-threatening disease. Influenza is not the same as the common cold and even young and healthy people may take two weeks or more to fully recover from the illness.

Myth 2: Influenza vaccination can cause influenza

Fact: Influenza vaccine does not contain any live viruses and therefore cannot cause the illness.

Myth 3: The influenza vaccine is not effective

Fact: Recent meta-analyses of randomised controlled trials and local observational studies support the claim that the influenza vaccine can be expected to provide somewhere between 50-70 per cent protection against medically-attended laboratory confirmed infection managed in the community (that is, in general practice). Although protection may be better when circulating and vaccine strains match, there is good evidence of substantial cross-protection when the circulating and vaccine strains don’t match.

Myth 4: The influenza vaccine causes serious adverse events

Fact: Serious adverse reactions to the influenza vaccine are rare, with the most common reactions being local redness and swelling. Other mild symptoms including headache, mild fever and sore muscles may occur in 1-10 per cent of people vaccinated but are limited to 24-48 hours. Allergic reactions may occur in people with a severe egg allergy, but they may receive the influenza vaccine after consultation with their GP.

Myth 5: People do not need to get vaccinated if they are healthy

Fact: Anyone can contract influenza and being fit and healthy does not protect against infection. For some people the result of an influenza infection will be lost income through days off work, but for those at high risk of developing complications from influenza, the results can be much more serious, including hospitalisation or death.

Myth 6: It is not necessary to get vaccinated against influenza every year

Fact: The types of influenza viruses circulating in the community change from year to year. In light of this, a new vaccine is made each year to protect against the current strains. In addition, immunity provided by the current influenza vaccines begins to fade after a year, so it is important to get vaccinated against influenza every year regardless of vaccine strain changes.

Myth 7: People shouldn’t get vaccinated against influenza if they are sick

Fact: Minor illnesses without fever should not prevent vaccination, especially if the person is in one of the groups
at risk of serious complications.

Reference: ISG Influenza Specialist Group, Myths & Misconceptions. Influenza and vaccination. http://www.isg.org.au/index.php/about-influenza/myths-and-misconceptions/ (accessed 24 March 2016).

The Influenza Specialist Group consists of medical and scientific specialists from around Australia and New Zealand with an interest in influenza. For more information, please call 03 9863 8650 or visit their website http://www.isg.org.au/.