Getting your flu vaccine has never been more important, with 2019 shaping up to be the worst Australian flu season on record. As of publication, over 40,000 people have been diagnosed with the influenza virus.
So far, 18 people in Victoria have died, ten people in South Australia and nine in NSW. Health authorities predict fatalities could reach 4,000 by the end of the flu season!
In light of these shocking numbers, I’d like to address some myths in the hope more people get to their GP for a flu shot.
I always get the flu after a flu shot
This is 100%, absolutely, hands-down impossible.
The flu vaccine doesn’t contain live influenza virus, only tiny fragments of the dead virus’s surface protein. These fragments merely allow your immune system to identify the virus. Your body then gets signalled to produce antibodies to protect you from the flu.
You may be among 5% of people who feel a bit unwell after getting the vaccine, but it’s definitely not the flu. This reaction is just your immune system kicking in and learning what the influenza virus looks like.
It goes away after a day or two, leaving your body well-equipped to fight off the virus if it comes your way.
I’ve had the flu lots of times – it’s no big deal
People frequently mistake a cold for the full-blown flu. Getting a cold many times throughout your life is common. However, most of us only get the influenza virus very occasionally.
Completely different viruses cause each illness.
I tell patients they’ll certainly know if they have the flu. High fevers, severe body aches, headaches and intense fatigue are reliable indicators. In severe cases, the flu can send you to hospital with bacterial infections and pneumonia.
Runny noses, sneezing and congestion are good indicators it’s just a cold. You rarely experience these symptoms if you have the flu.
I’m told the flu vaccine isn’t safe for pregnant women or children
Getting a flu shot is perfectly safe for pregnant women, children and the elderly. In fact, it’s vital these high-risk groups get vaccinated as they’re more likely to experience severe influenza symptoms.
Flu shots are free for:
- those aged under five years and over 65 years old
- people six months or older with particular medical conditions. These conditions include heart disease, severe asthma, kidney disease, low immunity and diabetes.
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders aged over six months old
- pregnant women.
I’ll just pop into the local pharmacy for my flu vaccine
Pharmacists are now permitted to administer the flu shot. However, you’re much better off visiting your GP clinic.
It’s more likely your GP or practice nurse will insist you hang around for 15 minutes after your flu shot. This is to ensure you’re not one of the unlucky few who experience an anaphylactic reaction to vaccines.
Oddly, many pharmacy chains are also suggesting you get your flu shot as early as March each year. The problem with this is you’ll only be covered for four months – until the end of June. The peak flu season is in full effect until at least the end of August.
As part of your complete healthcare, a visit to your GP clinic also provides an opportunity to have you and your family’s immunisation histories reviewed to get all vaccines up to date.