Dispelling Myths: Seasonal Flu Shot Cannot Give You H1N1

With two separate flu viruses threatening people right now, some doctors fear that those who acquire the H1N1 virus after receiving a seasonal flu shot will blame the shot for their illness and not come back next year.

"One has absolutely nothing to do with the other, but if people think the seasonal flu shot gave them H1N1, they are going to be less likely to get the shot in the coming years," said Dr. Jeff Kalina, associate director of emergency medicine with The Methodist Hospital in Houston. "This could lead to thousands of additional people coming down with the seasonal influenza virus."

Between five and 20 percent of the population gets the flu every year. More than 200,000 people are hospitalized with flu-like symptoms and more than 35,000 people die from the seasonal flu every year. Flu season runs from November through March. It is important to get a shot as soon as possible because it takes about two weeks for the vaccine to take effect. For children who are afraid of needles, a nasal-spray flu vaccine has been proven to provide protection against strains of the flu.

The H1N1 vaccine is available in very limited quantities and is not expected to be broadly available this year. Influenza is spread mainly from person-to-person when the infected person coughs or sneezes. However, you can also catch it by touching something with flu virus on it and then putting your hand to your nose or mouth. This is why it is especially important to practice good hand hygiene during flu season.

Kalina said the elderly, people with heart disease, kidney failure, diabetes, and HIV/AIDS are all in the high risk category for contracting the flu and need to receive a seasonal shot every year.

"What people need to understand is that it's impossible for the flu shot to give you the flu because it does not contain a live virus. Once people understand this they will realize that there is no way it could have given them H1N1," Kalina said. "So please, if you received the seasonal flu shot and get H1N1, come back and get the shot again next year. You will help save your life and everyone else around you."

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