8 Flu Shot Myths And Why They're Nonsense

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This article originally appeared on Medical Daily.

Every October through May, up to 20 percent of Americans will get the flu, with activity peaking between December and March. Coughing, fevers and aching are just some of the virus complications that can occur, yet millions of Americans can't decide whether to get the flu vaccine.

Skepticism about the flu shot stems from unfounded fears, such as the vaccine causes autism, or that it causes the actual flu. Flu prevention begins with separating fact from fiction.

Below are eight of the most viral flu myths that you need to stop believing — for your health's sake.

MYTH #1: YOU DON'T NEED THE FLU SHOT THIS YEAR IF YOU GOT IT LAST YEAR

Fact: Every flu season is different because the circulating strains change and immunity from the vaccine fades. Research determines which influenza viruses will be the most common during the upcoming season to maximize the effectiveness of the flu vaccine. Traditional flu vaccines, also known as "trivalent" vaccines, are made to protect against three flu viruses, including influenza A (H1N1) virus, an influenza A (H3N2) virus, and an influenza B virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

MYTH #2: IF YOU ALREADY GOT THE FLU IN THE FALL, YOU DON’T NEED A VACCINATION THIS YEAR

Fact: The flu is caused by several viruses, which means you will only be protected by the natural immunity you developed against one of them. This means you could potentially catch another strain, according to the CDC. Therefore, it’s recommended to get the shot even if you’ve recently had the flu.

MYTH #3: THE FLU SHOT CAN GIVE YOU THE FLU

Fact: Some people will get sick after being vaccinated, but it’s not from the vaccine. For the flu shot, chemical inactivation is used to “kill” or make the virus inactive and non-infectious. These chemicals leave a good amount of the outer coating of the virus intact, which produces a stronger and reliable immune response in the body.

Moreover, enough of the proteins on the virus’ shell are left intact to trigger an immune response. The body sees these proteins as a danger, and produces white blood cells to attack any matching flu virus. However, these proteins are not enough for the virus to reproduce and infect a vaccinated person.

12_16_flu_01 A nurse prepares a H1N1 flu vaccine shot at a hospital in Budapest, Hungary, in this November 20, 2009 file photo. Reuters

MYTH #4: FLU VACCINES CONTAIN DANGEROUS INGREDIENTS, SUCH AS MERCURY

Fact: Flu vaccines administered as either single-dose shots or nasal sprays do not contain any traces of mercury. However, the multi-dose flu shot does contain thimerosal, which breaks down into 49 percent ethylmercury, and is used to prevent bacterial contamination of the vaccine container. The body processes ethylmercury differently than methylmercury, a neurotoxin found in fish that can build up in the body. It is comprised of larger molecules that cannot enter the brain, and leaves the body within a week.

MYTH #5: PEOPLE WITH EGG ALLERGIES CAN'T GET THE FLU SHOT

Fact: People with egg allergies can get vaccinated. Although some flu vaccines are made using eggs, they only contain tiny amounts of egg proteins in them. There are two flu vaccines that don’t contain egg proteins, which have been approved for use in adults age 18 and older, according to the Mayo Clinic. Flu vaccines that do have egg proteins can be given safely to most people with egg allergies.

MYTH #6: PREGNANT WOMEN SHOULDN'T GET THE FLU VACCINE

Fact: Flu shots have been shown to protect the mother and her baby after birth from the flu. Influenza can lead to miscarriages, which means pregnant women should get a flu shot to lower their miscarriage risk. A newborn's immune system isn't strong enough to handle immunizations at birth, so they must wait until they're at least eight weeks old. Until then, they must rely on the “passive immunity” they inherit from their mothers via the placenta, which provides them with the antibodies that help to protect against bacteria and viruses. Therefore, they must rely on others for protection from the flu during this time.

MYTH #7: THE FLU SHOT CAUSES NERVE DISORDERS SUCH AS GUILLAIN-BARRÉ SYNDROME

Fact: In 1976, the swine flu vaccine was linked to Guillain-Barré syndrome, a rare disorder in which the person’s own immune system damages their nerve cells, causing muscle weakness, and sometimes paralysis. The link between GBS and flu vaccination in other years is unclear, but if there is any risk for GBS after seasonal flu vaccines, it’s very small,  about one in a million. Research suggests it’s more likely that a person will get GBS after getting the flu than after vaccination.

MYTH #8: ANTIBIOTICS CURE INFLUENZA

Fact: Antibiotics cannot fight the flu, because they only work against bacteria — viruses cause flu. Doctors may prescribe antiviral medication to treat the flu, but they do not cure the flu. They can only make you less infectious to others, and reduce the duration you may be ill. Antivirals are most effective when they’re given within a day or two of symptoms appearing. Some patients will be prescribed antibiotics if a bacterial infection occurs as a result of the flu.