It seems you can't go anywhere these days without hearing "the flu this" or "the flu that." Unfortunately, this season's influenza outbreak is one of the worst in years. And it's not just the flu virus that's causing problems; there are also many myths about the flu that are keeping people from doing more to prevent it. Mayo Clinic infectious diseases and vaccine expert Gregory Poland, M.D., dispels some of the most common:
Myth No. 1: Flu vaccines can give me the flu
False. Injectable flu vaccines are composed of pieces of inactivated flu proteins -- and it's impossible for them to "cause" flu. The nasal spray vaccine has live flu organisms weakened so they cannot multiply or cause disease.
Myth No. 2: Flu shots never work anyway, so why bother?
Also false. When there is a good match between the viruses causing disease and those in the vaccine, protection is excellent in otherwise healthy people. Protection is lower if you are unhealthy or in the frail elderly group. But vaccines are like seat belts: They are not perfect but they are the best protection we have against serious injury and death.
Myth No. 3: Flu vaccines are dangerous, especially for pregnant women
Also false. Concerns about pregnant women getting vaccinated began when women were advised not to get any kind of vaccination during pregnancy, Dr. Poland says. Today's flu vaccines are safe for expectant mothers and highly recommended. A recent large study demonstrated significant increases in maternal death among unvaccinated women infected with influenza. However, because they have not been studied in pregnant women, pregnant women should stay away from nasal flu vaccines, which do contain live, weakened flu virus, Dr. Poland says.
Myth No. 4: It's too late to get vaccinated
Again, false. While it's always better to get vaccinated before flu season begins -- it can take about two weeks for the vaccination to take full effect -- it's never too late to get a flu vaccine, Dr. Poland says. Even if you didn't get vaccinated and caught the flu, get a flu vaccine to protect yourself against the other strains that are circulating, Dr. Poland says.