PSA: Your Flu Shot Won't Give You A Mild Flu

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It's expected many more Australians will get the flu shot this year around due to the coronavirus pandemic. Anecdotal cases claim, however, that the flu shot has led them to feeling flu-like symptoms — something many would prefer to avoid. We asked a virologist from the World Health Organisation to dispel the myth once and for all.

Getting a flu shot is always a good idea as the flu season starts but this year's more important than ever given we're in the midst of a novel coronavirus pandemic. While the seasonal flu shot won't reduce your chances of catching the flu, the odds of getting both the flu and coronavirus at the same time will likely be reduced.And yes, you can get them simultaneously.

For many who've received the flu shot before, we'll know a sore arm is expected after the injection. A misconception many seem to have accepted for years, however, is that mild flu symptoms can be experienced too.

Professor Kanta Subbarao, Director of WHO Centre for Reference and Research on Influenza in Melbourne, told Lifehacker Australia it's just not possible.

"It is not true that anyone can get the flu from the flu shot," Professor Subbarao said over the phone to Lifehacker Australia.

"The influenza vaccine that's given as an injection is made from virus that's been completely inactivated. You don't actually get influenza or even a mild form of it."

Professor Subbarao explained that the virus and its infectivity have been completely inactivated and then purified extensively so that by the time it's injected into your arm, you're not getting a virus that can cause influenza.

"The side effects from the influenza vaccine injection can be some local pain at the injection site, that's the most common side effect," Professor Subbarao said.

"The normal definition of influenza would include respiratory symptoms — a cough, sore throat and a fever. None of that should happen within influenza vaccine."

What's in the flu shot you're getting this year?

This year's flu shot will contain the vaccine for four strains of influenza — two Influenza A and two Influenza B viruses. They're packaged into the one shot so you'll be protected from whichever one decides to rear its head this season.

"Because we cannot predict which of those four strains is going to circulate — sometimes we have seasons where more than one of them co-circulate — the vaccine contains four components," Professor Subbarao said.

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Do I have the flu or COVID-19?

While the flu shot will lower the chance of you contracting it, it doesn't completely rule it out. That means it's going to be tough to figure out whether you've got flu-like symptoms or COVID-19.

Professor Subbarao said there were some symptoms being reported from coronavirus patients that weren't typically seen in influenza cases.

"One of the symptoms that people are describing with coronavirus infections that I have not heard of with influenza is the loss of smell," Professor Subbarao said.

She explained that while it was known to happen with some common colds, the loss of smell, also known as anosmia, it was not known as a common symptom in influenzas.

Anosmia has not yet been added to the government's official symptoms list but Professor Subbarao said overseas reports were enough to suggest it might well be an indication of COVID-19's presence.

"These are observations that are being reported, especially from places that are seeing a large volume of cases, like in the United States and Italy," Professor Subbarao said.

Either way, use this as a reminder to book in that flu shot as soon as you can. It might just eliminate a little bit more of that paranoia every time you step outside the house this winter.

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