You have yours, I have mine. Everybody has them. We all have things that other people do that drive us up the wall. Can you tell that I am about to go on a little rant here?

Coming close after drivers making a turn or a lane change without turning on their blinkers would be coughing or sneezing into your palms.

If this is you, stop it will you?

Because that hand you just coughed or sneezed into will touch many more places; door handles and furniture to name a few leaving a trail of viruses along the way. And yes, things  “go viral” from there.

Flu prevention has been drummed into our heads for so long but it bears repeating because 5-20% of the United States population will come down with the flu every year according to the CDC.

While we’ve come a long way since the Spanish Flu of 1918 (or French Flu or German Flu depending on who you ask) that killed 40-50 million people all over the world, people still die from the flu so we all have to do our part to limit the spread of this deadly virus.

 Here are 5 simple steps to take to keep the flu far far away:

1. Wash your hands after blowing your nose.

2. Wash your hands (or use a hand sanitizer) after shaking people. Some people might be offended by this so try to do this after they have left your presence.

3. Cough into your collar, your blouse or into your elbow, DO NOT COUGH INTO YOUR PALM!

4. Stay home if you are ill. Your coworkers will not appreciate your dedication to work when they come down with the flu no thanks to you.

5. Roll up your sleeve and get the flu shot. It will only hurt a tiny bit.

Moving on to your questions (em objections)

“I got the flu shot last year but still came down with the flu and was as sick as a dog”

While it is not uncommon to have a little malaise after getting the flu shot, the flu shot is not expected to make you ill.

Here are the typical scenarios where you would take ill after getting the flu shot;

-You had it coming anyway having being exposed to the virus prior to receiving the vaccine, thanks to people coughing into their palms.  You need two weeks after receiving the flu shot to build antibodies against the flu virus.

-You got the flu shot on a year that the flu strain predictions were way off.

Here is how that scenario plays out;

Every year, far ahead of the flu season, notables in the fields of infectious disease and epidemiology gather together to “predict” the strain of influenza virus heading our way in the upcoming flu season.

The vaccine manufacturers then take this data to formulate the flu vaccine for the upcoming season.  Do you see where this is going?

You guessed it- their bet comes up short because of some wild virus mutation in birds or swine  and that flu shot you got then fails to protect you from the version of the flu for that year. The system is not perfect but that’s all we have at this time.

“Isn’t mercury (thimerosol) in the flu shot dangerous?”

Mercury (thimerosol) is a vaccine preservative that has been removed from all the vaccines except the flu shot.

While conspiracy theorists will hold a different view, the fact is that a tiny bit of mercury has not been shown to hurt adults. Children are a whole ‘nother story so there is a special mercury-free formulation of the flu vaccine for pregnant women and kids younger than 5.

The nasal flu vaccine formulation is completely mercury free too.

“I hate needles”

I really identify with this one. Legend has it that I could outrun any needle-bearing nurse headed my way as a kid. A few decades and two babies later, needles are not half as scary. Besides, you could get the nasal formulation and skip the needle.

“I am allergic to eggs”

Congrats! You are officially excused from getting the flu shot. Eggs are an important component of the influenza vaccine. There are some new egg-free flu vaccines on the market but they are hard to come by and not commonly stocked at most doctor’s offices.

Carry on with #1-4.

 “I am against vaccines”

You are entitled to your opinion. Simply carry out #1-4.

Have an uneventful flu season!

About the author

Avatar photo

Dr. Bola

Family physician. Works for the "man" by day, wife & mom 24/7.
Loves the work of translating "medicalese" to plain english.


  • I get the flu shot every year and dont get sick. My kids still manage to get the flu but the shot makes it a milder case.

  • Thank you, thank you, thank you for pointing out that it is not helpful for people to go to work when they are ill. I remember a few years ago I worked with a woman who came to work while she had pneumonia. She felt that it showed her dedication to the company. It just straight up made me furious that she would expose the rest of us (and therefore our families) to it (of note: the company gave 12 sick days a year & they could accumulate. Said person had near 100 sick days available).

    • You are welcome. What workaholics don’t understand is that taking that one sick day beats the 1 week of dragging yourself to work in terms of productivity and work quality.

      Also you don’t put more people out on sick leave essentially increasing your work load.

  • I want to print this whole post out and plaster my college campus with it. You’d be amazed how often college students will cough and sneeze into their hands, then carry on like nothing has happened. And so many of them avoid getting their flu shots, which just makes it spread faster. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    • You are welcome Megan. It takes a lot to change an unhealthy (and unsanitary) behavior but we will keep trying.

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