Submitted photo
Dr. Stanley Martin, Geisinger’s director of infectious diseases, poses for a photo at Geisinger Medical Center.

LEWISTOWN — Excuses, excuses, excuses. It seems there’s no shortage of reasons people offer to avoid getting an annual flu shot.

Dr. Stanley Martin, Geisinger’s director of Infectious Diseases understands that there are myths out there about flu shots – and that many people naturally worry about vaccines.

Martin has heard most of the excuses a thousand times. He understands that there are myths out there about the shot and wants to separate fact from fiction.

Are there side effects from flu vaccinations?

Possibly, but there are potential side effects with any medication. Getting a flu shot in the arm commonly causes aches and soreness. Sometimes people get a low-grade fever or feel tired and run down. These are side effects that only last a day or so.

Can the flu spread from one person to another?

Yes, absolutely, Martin said. In fact, it’s how most people get the flu. It starts as a respiratory virus with coughing, sneezing and difficulty breathing. Typically, the person infected with the flu has spread it to the next person before they even show any signs of sickness. People can try to be diligent about not spreading the flu, but they can do it without even knowing it early on.

What’s the difference between a cold and the flu?

Martin said influenza, or flu, and the common cold are both contagious respiratory illnesses, but they are caused by different viruses. Flu is caused by influenza viruses only, whereas the common cold can be caused by a number of different viruses, including rhinoviruses and parainfluenza.

Because the flu and common cold have similar symptoms, it can be difficult to tell them apart based on symptoms alone. Generally, the flu is worse than the common cold, and symptoms typically are more intense and begin more abruptly. Colds are usually milder than the flu. People with colds are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose than people who have the flu.

If you have been vaccinated against COVID, does that help fight against the flu?

Probably not. Martin said vaccines are pretty specific, such as the ones that battle COVID, so they don’t fend off other illnesses like the flu. There are vaccines in the works against co-infections. They would be more likely to fight off COVID and the flu. Martin cautioned if you really want to prevent yourself from getting the flu: Get a flu shot. The shots to measles, mumps and rubella have been combined in the “MMR” shot. He added it’s also “perfectly safe” to get the flu shot and COVID vaccine or booster at the same time.

If you have not gotten a flu shot yet this year, is it too late?

Absolutely not, Martin said. Despite being past its peak, flu cases will continue to pop up over the next few months. The flu is especially problematic for the elderly (age 65 and over), children ages 5 and under) and pregnant women. Those groups are much more likely to be affected by influenza if they have not been vaccinated.

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