Flu season is here. That means millions of Americans need to decide whether or not get the flu vaccine.
Some are scared of autism or that flu shots cause flu. Others just think they don't work. What's the truth? Here are 12 common beliefs about the flu vaccine and what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says about each...
Myth: Flu shots can cause the flu
Flu vaccines contain only inactivated flu viruses. They're unable to cause infection. In fact, studies comparing flu shot recipients to people who get salt-water (placebo) shots show that the only differences in the two groups are that the flu shot recipients experience redness at the injection site and arm soreness. They weren't more likely to experience body aches, fever, cough, runny nose, or sore throat.
Myth: Late flu shots don't help
Some people believe it makes no sense to get a flu shot after November. In fact, while experts say it's best to get flu shots as soon as they become available, getting a flu shot can be helpful as long as flu viruses are circulating.
Flu season varies from year to year. Though seasonal influenza usually peaks in January or February, some people get the flu as late as May.
Myth: Flu shots protect for years
Just because you got a flu shot last year doesn't mean you're protected this year. Flu viruses change from year to year, and that means the flu vaccine must be updated yearly as well.
Myth: No other precautions needed
Even if you get a flu shot, government scientists say it's a good idea to take - and encourage children to take - everyday steps to prevent the spread of germs and viruses, including those that cause influenza. Simple precautions include: Cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze. Stay away from people who are sick. Wash your hands often with soap and water - or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
Myth: It pays to wait
Some people think they need a flu shot only if the people around them come down with the flu. But if you wait till others get sick, it will probably be too late to protect yourself. It takes about two weeks for the flu vaccine to provide full protection.
Myth: Babies should get flu shots
Children under six months of age are at risk for influenza. Unfortunately, they're too young to get a flu shot. The best way to protect them against is to make sure other members of the household get vaccinated, along with their caregivers.
Myth: Flu shots aren't very effective
The flu vaccine doesn't work all the time, but studies show that it can reduce the chances of getting the flu by up to 90 percent. The vaccine is a bit less effective in old people and young children, but getting vaccinated can help them avoid serious complications of flu even if it doesn't prevent the illness itself.
Myth: Everyone should get a flu shot
Flu shots are now recommended for everyone over the age of six months - except for people who have a severe allergy to chicken eggs or other substances in the vaccine or who have sustained a serious reaction to previous flu shots.
Myth: Flu shots cause autism
Some flu vaccines contain thimerosal, a mercury-containing preservative that has been blamed for health problems, including autism. But studies have shown that the low doses of thimerosal are harmless, causing nothing more than redness and swelling at the injection site. Numerous studies have shown no link between thimerosal exposure and autism.
Myth: One flu shot isn't enough
This year only one flu vaccine is needed, and most people need to get vaccinated only once. Children between the ages of six months and eight years who have never gotten a seasonal flu vaccine should get two doses of vaccine spaced at least four weeks apart.
Myth: Antiviral drugs make flu shots unnecessary
Yes, antiviral pills, liquids, and inhaled powders are available to treat flu symptoms. But these prescription-only products - Tamiflu and Relenza - are considered a second line of defense against the flu. And they tend to work only if they are taken within the first day or two of coming down with influenza.
Myth: Flu shots are the only option
Hate injections? A nasal spray flu vaccine is available. It's OK for use by healthy people between the ages of two and 49 years - as long as they are not pregnant.