Debunking the flu vaccine myths
Influenza kills hundreds of thousands of people around the world every year, but many Kiwis do not protect themselves because of common misconceptions about the vaccine. CECILE MEIER reports.
Emily Arps has constant lung infections, bouts of pneumonia, and lots of coughing.
Arps and others like her with respiratory illnesses or compromised immune systems, could develop serious complications if exposed to influenza, commonly known as the flu.
Every winter, Arps, who lives with two respiratory conditions, stays as healthy as possible. She hopes others will get their flu jabs.
About one in four New Zealanders get the flu each year, taking an average of four sick days off work each, according to a 2015 Southern Cross survey.
For some, the illness can be fatal. Many have severe symptoms leading to hospitalisation.
Canterbury medical officer of health Dr Ramon Pink said 125,935 vaccinations were distributed in Canterbury by the end of April, which was "an encouraging start to the flu season".
In 2009, about the same number of people were vaccinated over the whole season.
"Flu can be severe and can cause serious illness and death, especially in the very young and in the elderly," Pink said.
Worldwide, flu caused between 3 million and 5m cases of severe disease and an estimated 250,000 to 500,000 deaths, he said.
Green Cross Health Group manager professional services Alison Van Wyk said even those who did not present symptoms could be carriers of the virus and infect others.
"There remains a large proportion of New Zealanders who are not getting the flu vaccination."
Common misconceptions stopped people from getting the vaccine, placing them at unnecessary risk of falling ill and infecting others, she said.
FLU VACCINES MYTHS
The flu shot will give me the flu: False. The flu vaccine does not contain live strains of the virus; it cannot infect you. However, it takes about two weeks for your body to form protective antibodies to the vaccine so it can fully protect you.
I'm fit, young, healthy and I never get the flu – I don't need to worry: False. The flu can affect anybody, causing severe symptoms regardless of health, fitness levels or age. The more people who are vaccinated, the less transmission of the flu occurs and the better protected our overall population is.
Pregnant women can't get a flu shot: False. In fact, pregnant women should get a flu shot as soon as possible, to help protect their baby for their first few months of their life when they are susceptible to infection. Pregnant women are eligible for a free flu vaccine at their local pharmacy or GP clinic.
I already had a vaccine last year, so I'm safe: False. The flu strains in circulation change each year, so it is important to get a fresh vaccination at the start of the flu season (between April and May) to ensure you're protected against the latest virus. Immunity also decreases over time so annual vaccinations are necessary.
Man flu isn't real: The jury's still out. According to a study by Stanford University School of Medicine, men may suffer more when struck down by the flu, because high levels of testosterone can weaken their immune response. Women generally have a stronger antibody response to the flu shot, giving them greater protection against the virus.
(Source: Green Cross)
FLU JABS ARE FREE FOR THE FOLLOWING PEOPLE:
- Pregnant women;
- Anyone aged 65 or over;
- Children aged 6 months to under 5 years who have been hospitalised for respiratory illness or have a history of significant respiratory illness;
- Anyone aged 6 months to under 65 years with medical conditions including heart problems, chronic breathing or lung problems, diabetes and other conditions;
- All children and young people aged from 6 months to under 18 years who are living in quake-affected areas including Seddon/Ward, rural eastern Marlborough, Kaikoura and Hurunui.