Myth 1. Influenza is no worse than a very bad cold and is only dangerous in older people.
Fact. Influenza is a severe respiratory illness that can cause misery for patients. Symptoms include congestion, fever, cough, body aches, and complete exhaustion, and can last for 2 to 3 weeks. While most people who become seriously ill or die from influenza complications are older than 65 years, influenza can be dangerous for very young children, healthy younger adults, and people of any age with chronic health conditions. People at lower risk for complications can still transmit influenza to others who are susceptible, including children less than 6 months old, who cannot be vaccinated.
Myth 2. Chronic health conditions such as cardiac disease or asthma are contraindications to influenza vaccination.
Fact. Patients with chronic health conditions are at higher risk for complications from influenza and should be vaccinated annually with a trivalent inactivated vaccine (TIV).
Myth 3. Pregnancy is a contraindication to influenza vaccination.
Fact. Pregnant women are at higher risk for severe complications from influenza (see Box 3). Vaccination protects both women and their newborns. Thimerosal-free preparations of TIV may be used during all stages of pregnancy.
Myth 4. Close contact with immunosuppressed patients is a contraindication to influenza vaccination.
Fact. Immunosuppressed patients may be at increased risk of contracting influenza disease and its complications even if vaccinated, so it is especially important for close contacts, including health care workers, to be vaccinated, preferably with inactivated vaccine. See Available Vaccines for information on live attenuated influenza vaccine.
Myth 5. Influenza vaccination will cause a mild version of the flu.
Fact. Inactivated influenza vaccine contains killed viruses that cannot cause infection. Live attenuated influenza vaccine contains only weakened viruses that replicate at cooler temperatures within the nose and may therefore cause postvaccination nasal congestion. The viruses cannot infect the lungs or other areas where the temperature is warmer. Occasionally, people may report mild transient reactions, including fever, muscle pain, chills, tiredness/weakness, or headache. These reactions generally last only 1 or 2 days as the immune system produces antibodies (39).
Myth 6. It's too early to get vaccinated in August and too late after the end of November.
Fact. Influenza vaccination should begin as soon as vaccine becomes available and continue until vaccine expires. Protection will last all season, into the following year. Furthermore, influenza activity is unpredictable; outbreaks can occur as late as May.
Myth 7. Influenza vaccine contains mercury, which is unsafe.
Fact. Multidose vials of influenza vaccine contain a small amount of thimerosal, a preservative used to protect against bacterial contamination. Ethylmercury is a metabolite of thimerosal and differs from methylmercury, which is a neurotoxic agent (40). Numerous studies have found no association between thimerosal and developmental disorders. Thimerosal is usually only associated with minor local injection site reactions such as redness and swelling (41).
Myth 8. It's better not to get vaccinated and become "naturally" immune to influenza.
Fact. Influenza is a debilitating preventable illness with potentially severe complications. Vaccination is the best method of protection against the morbidity and mortality associated with influenza.