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A shot in the arm – literally

Flu season sucks. Even more so, because it’s mostly avoidable.

Some people mark time by flipping the calendar, or by the shelves at Costco — “eeek — Halloween candy and Christmas décor!!”

In my case, I start asking when the flu vaccine is in stock. So, as you cruise past posts about how many sleeps until Christmas, consider researching why ‘tis the season for debunking misinformation about cold and flu season.

We really should be long past any debate around myths and old wives’ tales, surrounded as we are by sound science. “Science is like magic, only real.”

Having had the great (mis)fortune of being raised by a scientist — Mom was a lab technician for 30 years — she hammered scientific facts into my brain from birth. There really is no Middle in the science behind staying healthy in flu season; it’s about protecting vulnerable people from ever-intensifying flu bugs.

My Dad is in a care home, making flu shots anything but optional. If we don’t get the shot, we would have to wear masks during visits. With kids bounding all about our home, I’m living in a Petri dish of germs. So, when it comes to fending off viruses, I’m like a high-stakes poker player pushing my chips to the centre of the table; on flu shots, I am All In.

"If we don't get the shot, we'd have to wear masks during visits."

Let’s do some debunking here:

“Flu shots don’t do anything.” — FALSE. Scientists work with information gathered in the Southern Hemisphere (which just had flu season) to try to get ahead of the bugs we might face north of the equator.

“Flu shots are big Pharma making money from fear.” — FALSE. Shots are basically free. For those with a compromised immune system, or who care for the elderly, they are literally free. You don’t even need to see a doctor! Most pharmacies will administer the shot without appointment.

“Needles scare me, I can’t.” — FALSE. If you hate needles, you are covered, ask your doctor to reserve the nasal mist for you. (Be ready for serious side-eye as the mist is often reserved for kids who freak out at the pin prick of a vaccine.)

“I get the flu every time I’ve gotten the shot.” — FALSE. That is called coincidence. Flu shots do not use a live vaccine, so they cannot cause influenza.

“Anti-vaxxers warn of horrific reactions.” — Mostly FALSE. Severe allergic reactions are rare at one in a million.

To the friend who reiterates yearly she can “catch a cold or flu from going outside in the cold.” — FALSE. You can’t get sick from cold weather, science says so. Dovetailing with that mis-info is the famous “Don’t go outside with wet hair, you will catch the death!” Again, nope. Again, science. If you get extremely cold outside and feel ill – that’s hypothermia. Potentially serious, but neither viral nor bacterial. Full stop.

While we are talking bugs, heed the catchphrase that “not all bugs need drugs.” Antibiotics do absolutely nothing for viral infections. Nothing. Antibiotics are for bacterial infections. If you have a virus and say that it “feels like they are helping,” that’s the placebo effect.

It’s wasteful, hard on your body and might render the antibiotic useless should you actually need it someday for a bacterial issue.

When kids are sick, keep them home. To the parent who sends their kid, to school with a sore throat or barfing, with the excuse that they “likely got it at school” — don’t. Not only might it extend their suffering and worsen the symptoms, it most certainly can spread the virus. Rule of thumb from science is to return to school (or work) 48 hours after last symptom.

When kids are sick, keep them home.

According to my mom the scientist, if you do get sick, go to bed, hydrate, and put your best self care to work. If your house is hit by a bug and you want to avoid it: wash your hands, a lot.

We’re all likely to get hit with the flu. For a solid shot at shortening the duration and severity of symptoms, do yourself the three-second favour and just get the shot.

It takes a couple of weeks for immunity to build, so don’t wait until deep in flu season. The mercury drops, we shutter our homes with tightly sealed windows and spend far less time in fresh air.

We hunker down in germ city.

Peak flu season is right around the time everyone heads to the mall for hardcore Christmas shopping, but officially starts when Costco starts selling lawn mowers and patio furniture. two weeks.

Jody Vance is a born and raised Vancouverite who’s spent 30 years in both local and national media. The first woman in the history of Canadian TV to host her own sports show in primetime, since 2011 she’s been working in both TV and radio covering news and current affairs.