One fifth of people incorrectly believe the flu jab can give them the virus, a survey of 2,000 adults has revealed. And worryingly, this false belief may be one of the reasons why just under half (37 per cent) of Brits are planning to be vaccinated this year.
Jane Devenish, pharmacist at Well Pharmacy which commissioned the research, said: “The only way to catch flu is by being exposed to the flu virus, and the virus peaks in winter.”
When a person has the flu vaccination, the viruses injected into the body are not active. “Getting the vaccine does not give you the flu – it’s impossible to get the flu from the vaccine,” registered GP Dr Kenny Livingstone told HuffPost UK. “There may be a reaction to the injection like a sore arm or slight temperature and muscle aches - but these are common reactions to a vaccine.”
If you’ve previously caught the flu after having the jab, chances are you had already caught it at the time of having the vaccine or in the following weeks after having it (as its protective effects don’t kick in properly until two weeks later). There’s also a chance the strain you caught wasn’t covered by the vaccine.
[Read more: What you need to know about this year’s flu vaccines]
The survey comes almost a month after England’s chief nurse Professor Jane Cummings revealed that some NHS staff are choosing not to have the flu vaccine because they incorrectly believe it will give them flu, which she confirmed is a myth.
Last year there were 15,000 deaths caused by flu in England (almost double the national average) – as such, health officials are increasing efforts to protect the population’s health. Public Health England’s medical director Professor Paul Cosford said the number one way to protect against flu is to have the vaccination.
Dr Livingstone, who is chief medical officer of private home visit service ZoomDoc, added: “Flu can be very serious and can increase the risk of serious complications and hospitalisation – especially in those that are older, with chronic health conditions or in children, so it’s better to get vaccinated than to get the flu.
“It’s also important to get the flu vaccine annually to ensure optimal protection against the strains of influenza each year.”
In addition to the flu jab myth, the latest survey revealed that the two most common methods used by Brits to try and ward off flu are dosing up on vitamin C and drinking a ‘hot toddy’ (a warm whisky drink with honey and lemon).
“There is no evidence that vitamin C prevents flu, and alcohol actually lowers your immune system, lowering your body’s ability to ward off viruses like flu,” Devenish said.
People were equally confused about what to do if they caught flu. One quarter believe you should sweat out the fever, nearly one fifth think you should “starve it”, and 16 per cent think the illness can be “cured” by chicken soup.
Devenish added: “Sweating is the body’s natural way of lowering its temperature, and it’s important to reduce a fever by keeping cool and taking paracetamol.
“I would never recommend starving yourself. Chicken soup, like any fluids, is great for staying hydrated and nourishing your body which definitely helps recovery, but unfortunately nothing can really ‘cure’ flu.”
Despite the fact that 70 per cent of Brits surveyed had experienced flu, 53 per cent said they have no intention of getting the flu jab this year and a further 10 per cent said they didn’t know.