The claim: Flu shots make you sick.
Every year about this time, we start spending more time indoors together. It's cold out. And, frankly, all the sneezing, coughing and general sniffling in enclosed places makes me think of petri dishes.
Reno Gazette-Journal reporter Lenita Powers reported the first case of influenza last month in Washoe County. In her story, Dr. Joseph Iser, the district's health officer said that the flu is "highly contagious, and anyone who has not had a flu shot may be at risk of catching the disease."
And now -- December -- is the month when the number of flu cases starts to pick up, with the numbers peaking in January and February, he told Powers in her article.
That leads to the common claim: I didn't get a flu shot because I always seem to get sick from them.
Even I have said that to others. Seems like the one time I got one, I became sick shortly thereafter. Now, that could be like saying "someone fell down the stairs and now they are pregnant" -- two things that clearly aren't related to each other. But, in my head, I connected them.
So, what's the flu story?
Both Katie Nannini, the statewide coordinator for the Immunization Coalition, and Phillip Ulibarri, spokesman for the Washoe County Health District, said they've heard that excuse over and over again.
"It's the most prevalent one I've heard," Ulibarri said. Both said it's just not true.
To help me answer the question, they pointed me to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's website.
Here's the official word from the CDC:
"No, a flu shot cannot cause flu illness. The viruses contained in flu shots are inactivated (killed), which means they cannot cause infection. Flu vaccine manufacturers kill the viruses used in the flu shot during the process of making vaccine, and batches of flu vaccine are tested to make sure they are safe. In randomized, blinded studies, where some people got flu shots and others got saltwater shots, the only differences in symptoms was increased soreness in the arm and redness at the injection site among people who got the flu shot. There were no differences in terms of body aches, fever, cough, runny nose or sore throat."
Ok, so why do some people feel sick after getting the flu shot?
The CDC once again has an answer:
"The most common side effect of the flu vaccine in adults is soreness at the spot where the shot was given, which usually lasts less than two days. The soreness is often caused by a person's immune system making protective antibodies to the killed viruses in the vaccine. These antibodies are what allow the body to fight against flu. The needle stick may also cause some soreness at the injection site. According to the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), rare symptoms include fever, muscle pain, and feelings of discomfort or weakness. If these problems occur, they are very uncommon and usually begin soon after the shot and last 1-2 days."
But, some people do still come down with flu-like symptoms, no?
And it's almost as if the CDC anticipated that question -- because they have an answer:
"People may be exposed to an influenza virus shortly before getting vaccinated or during the two-week period that it takes the body to gain protection after getting vaccinated. This exposure may result in a person becoming ill with flu before the vaccine begins to protect them.
"People may become ill from other (non-flu) viruses that circulate during the flu season, which can also cause flu-like symptoms (such as rhinovirus).
"A person may be exposed to an influenza virus that is not included in the seasonal flu vaccine. There are many different influenza viruses that circulate every year. The flu shot protects against the 3 viruses that research suggests will be most common. Unfortunately, some people can remain unprotected from flu despite getting the vaccine. This is more likely to occur among people that have weakened immune systems. However, even among people with weakened immune systems, the flu vaccine can still help prevent influenza complications."
From everything I saw, it's just not true that the flu shot makes a person sick.
Truth Meter: 1 out of 10.