Learn the truth about common flu vaccine myths and better protect yourself.

By Maria Masters

It's hard to say what's more widespread this season: the influenza virus or misconceptions about the vaccine. We asked Pedro Piedra, M.D., professor of molecular virology, microbiology and pediatrics at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, to set the record straight.

Myth #1: "Most kids don't need to get vaccinated because they're young and healthy."

Not only can influenza hospitalize (or even kill) healthy children, but school-age kids are also more likely to catch the flu than any other group. Plus, if your child isn't immunized, she might sicken others, including family members, the elderly or people with underlying health problems, like asthma. "Many parents also don't vaccinate their children if it isn't specifically recommended to them by their doctors," says Dr.Piedra. "But sometimes physicians are just busy and may have forgotten to mention it during the appointment."

Myth #2: "Once flu season starts, it's too late."

Ideally, the best time to opt for the vaccine is when it's first made available; children age 9 and older need about two weeks to build up protective antibodies. But influenza can begin circulating as early as October and stick around until May. In addition, "there can be several different strains each season, with different peaks and start dates," says Dr. Piedra.

Myth #3: "The shot is the only option."

This year the nasal spray vaccine, FluMist Quadrivalent, will comprise all four circulating influenza strains, says Dr. Piedra. (Most flu shots will consist of three.) The spray contains a live, weakened virus but won't cause an illness. Side effects can include a runny nose and fever, and it may not be recommended for those with chronic health issues.

Originally published in the November 2013 issue of Family Circle magazine.

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