Myths & Misconceptions
Influenza and vaccination
Myth: Influenza is not a serious disease
Fact: Influenza (commonly known as flu) is a highly contagious and potentially life-threatening disease. Influenza is not the same as the common cold and even young and healthy people may take two weeks or more to fully recover from the illness.
Influenza causes an estimated 1,500 deaths,1 18,000 hospitalisations and 300,000 GP consultations2 annually in Australia. Perhaps surprisingly, the number of deaths from influenza each year is similar to the number of Australian road traffic fatalities.3
Myth: Influenza vaccination can cause influenza
Fact: Influenza vaccine does not contain any live viruses and therefore cannot cause the illness.4
Myth: The influenza vaccine is not effective
Fact: Recent meta-analyses of randomised controlled trials5 and local observational studies6 support the claim that influenza vaccine can be expected to provide somewhere between 50-70% protection against medically-attended laboratory confirmed infection managed in the community (that is, in general practice). Although protection may be better when circulating and vaccine strains match, there is good evidence of substantial cross-protection when the circulating and vaccine strains don't match7.
Protection against hospitalisation for laboratory-confirmed influenza infection is generally in the same range (50-70%) but lower estimates have been reported recently from Australia and New Zealand.
For more information, see Vaccine Efficacy & Effectiveness
Myth: The influenza vaccine causes serious adverse events
Fact: Serious adverse reactions to the influenza vaccine are rare, with most common reactions being local redness and swelling. Other mild symptoms including headache, mild fever and sore muscles may occur in 1-10% of people vaccinated but are limited to 24-48 hours. Allergic reactions may occur in people with a severe egg allergy, but may receive the influenza vaccine after consultation with their GP.4
Myth: People do not need to get vaccinated if they are healthy
Fact: Anyone can contract influenza and being fit and healthy does not protect against infection.
For some people the result of an influenza infection will be lost income through days off work, but for those at high risk of developing complications from influenza, the results can be much more serious, including hospitalisation or death.
Myth: It is not necessary to get vaccinated against influenza every year
Fact: The types of influenza viruses circulating in the community change from year to year. In light of this, a new vaccine is made each year to protect against the current strains.
In addition, immunity provided by the current influenza vaccines fades over the course of a year. In fact the decline may start as early as 5 or 6 months after vaccination.It is therefore not only important to get vaccinated against influenza every year regardless of vaccine strain changes, but to also time the vaccination so that it is at its most effective when it is needed most (at the peak of the flu season).
Myth: Vaccination against influenza is a waste of time and money
Fact: Even healthy young people may take two weeks or more to fully recover from influenza and people falling ill commonly need to take time off work resulting in financial hardship. Furthermore, falling ill with influenza might mean missing out on important life events as people often cannot get out of bed for several days.
Influenza vaccination is the best way to help protect against influenza infection and the vaccine can be easily and quickly administered by a GP or other vaccination provider.
Myth: People shouldn't get vaccinated against influenza if they are sick
Fact: Minor illnesses without fever should not prevent vaccination, especially if the person is in one of the groups at risk of serious complications. See who is at risk?
Myth: If I receive an annual influenza vaccination, I am also protected against avian influenza
Fact: An annual influenza vaccination is designed to protect against the strain of influenza circulating that year. The seasonal influenza vaccine is not designed to protect against avian influenza (also known as bird flu), however this is not present in Australia and currently doesn't spread from person to person. If bird flu does start to spread among people a special vaccine will be made to protect against it.
While there has been a recent focus on avian influenza and the possibility of this causing a pandemic, seasonal influenza currently poses a far greater danger to Australians. In fact, in the last century, more people died from seasonal influenza than in the three influenza pandemics.8
References1. National Institute of Clinical Studies Influenza. Flu Facts. Found at: http://www.fightflu.com.au/asp/index.asp?sid=2118&page=influenza
2. Newall A, et al. Economic report into the cost of influenza to the Australian health system. March 2007
3. Australian Bureau of Statistics. Causes of death Australia 2005: 3303.0 p30
4. NHMRC. The Australian Immunisation Handbook 10th Edition 2013. Available here
5. Tricco et al. Comparing influenza vaccine efficacy against mismatched and matched strains: a systematic review and meta-analysis. BMC Medicine 2013, 11:153
6. Kelly et al. Moderate influenza vaccine effectiveness with variable effectiveness by match between circulating and vaccine strains in Australian adults aged 20–64 years, 2007–2011. IRV
7. Manzoli et al. Effectiveness and harms of seasonal and pandemic influenza vaccines in children, adults and elderly. Human Vaccines & Immunotherapeutics 8:7, 851–862; July 2012; ˝ 2012 Landes Bioscience
8. Wilschut J. & McElhaney J.E. Influenza. Elsevier Limited. Spain. 2005. p15