February 20, 2020

What you think you know about flu: 5 misconceptions

We hear a lot about flu each autumn, however, many aspects of the illness are still unclear. In addition there are just as many misconceptions about the illness as there are about the vaccine. Foyer answers your most frequently asked questions and challenges the most common preconceptions about flu.

1.    Flu is harmless

FALSE. We tend to use the word “flu” for any kind of cold, which has trivialised the term in everyday language. However, actual flu caused by the Influenza virus can not only make you very unwell for a week or so, it can also cause complications such as ear infections, sinusitis or bronchitis. These complications can sometimes be extremely serious and include pneumonia, pleurisy, myocarditis, encephalitis or meningitis, for example which can be caused by the virus itself, or by a bacterial superinfection.

The risk of complications is greater in vulnerable groups: the elderly, babies and young children, pregnant women, the chronically ill and persons with an immune deficiency. Not to mention those people that are most highly exposed such as health professionals or care-home residents.

People still die, directly or indirectly, from the complications of flu. This is especially true with the elderly (90% of flu deaths affect those over the age of 65). In Luxembourg alone, 80 people die each week on average during a flu epidemic, and up to 120 people per week when the epidemic is at its peak (Source Laboratoire National de Santé [National Health Laboratory]).

2.    Antibiotics cure flu

FALSE. Antibiotics serve absolutely no use at all for curing the flu, which is equally true for all other infections of viral origin. Even though some doctors prescribe antibiotics readily, they are only effective against bacterial infections.

In principle, the flu is generally over within approximately a week. . Treatment is limited to relieving the symptoms (such as fever and pain) with paracetamol, etc. However, you should seek the advice of a doctor if the symptoms persist or worsen, or if you are a high-risk person. In such cases, the doctor will sometimes prescribe anti-viral medicines to limit the risk of complications. Of course, if a complication arises, it must be treated accordingly!

3.    The vaccine acts immediately and for a long time

FALSE. It will take two weeks for your body to be protected, starting from the date of the injection.  This means that in the autumn you should not wait too long to have your flu-jab – before the virus starts circulating. Unfortunately, the vaccine is only effective for around 6 months as viral strains evolve: the flu currently circulating is not the same flu as last year’s strain!

4.    Or just the opposite, a vaccine is useless

FALSE. At present, a vaccine is the best way of preventing the illness and its complications. It is especially recommended for vulnerable persons (see above) and their friends and relatives. Many people think that the vaccine is useless as it is not 100% effective. It cannot be totally infallible, as viral strains are constantly evolving and we cannot predict with certainty the perfect vaccine.

However, this doesn’t mean it has no value! Firstly, the flu vaccine has changed considerably and it is now composed of four different viral strains, to provide a broader protection. At the very least it will lessen the effects of the illness and especially any dangerous complications.

The vaccine also helps to reduce considerably the risk of contagion on an individual as well as on a social level. Vaccination levels must also be sufficiently high in a given population to prevent the epidemic from gaining ground. By vaccinating yourself you are not only protecting yourself but you are also protecting your friends, family and the most vulnerable groups.

Good to know:    Many people think that they have had the flu even though they received a flu-jab. It is possible since the vaccine is not infallible, but it is often untrue. The symptoms of some infections are similar to flu… without actually being the flu!

5.    The vaccine is dangerous and can transmit the virus

FALSE. The flu vaccine cannot transmit flu! In common with all vaccines and generally all medications, side effects can sometimes occur (in 5 to 10% of cases). In terms of complications, these are extremely rare. The adverse effects of the vaccine are not serious and disappear spontaneously after a few days. You may experience muscle pain, feel a little nauseous and have a slight temperature. Do not confuse these harmless side effects with the flu virus! Complications connected to the vaccine are extremely rare.

Out of all the medical advances achieved throughout history, vaccinations have saved the most lives. Just think about it!

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