The hygiene mythbuster

28 November 2014

If you're cleaning healthcare facilities you need a flu shot. Seán Derrig, scientific director at Chemex International, explains why

There are plenty of myths about the flu and I’m not talking about ‘man flu’ or the casual use of the word when applied to a trivial case of the sniffles. I’m talking about the influenza virus. The one that puts you in bed for a week, makes you feel like someone has taken a hammer to every muscle in your body and you’re on the verge of coughing up your kidneys. That’s if you’re lucky. If it doesn’t kill you.

‘Proper’ flu is serious. In the 500 years it’s been with us it’s preferentially killed the old, the young, the infirm, the obese and the pregnant, but it kills the healthy too. It makes other conditions worse and kills indirectly via acute secondary infections, by increasing vascular events like stroke and heart attack and by worsening underlying diseases like congestive heart failure and chronic bronchitis.

The 2009 H1N1 killed in excess of 250,000 but we dodged the bullet: the 1918/19 H1N1 killed more people than both World Wars combined in a single season. It killed more people in 24 months than AIDS killed in 24 years and more in a year than the Black Death did in a century. Over a quarter of patients who catch flu in hospital die from it. And 30% of us can have it but show no symptoms. So if your staff are cleaning in a hospital or care home they will be spreading about 35 million flu virus particles in every teaspoon of mucus they sneeze or cough about the place.


It’s now recommended – and for good reason – that anyone working in healthcare gets the flu vaccine. For a number of reasons the flu vaccine is never 100% protective but that doesn’t make it 100% useless – far from it. You might think you’re not at risk but you are. It’s simple: if you breathe you’re at risk. Vitamins, colloidal silver, homeopathy, Echinacea – none of these will prevent or treat the flu. 


Some say the vaccine is worse than the disease. But it can’t give you flu, it’s a killed vaccine – so how does a possible sore arm compare with possible death? But most importantly, if getting vaccinated means you might not get sick or pass it on to someone it might kill, surely it’s worth it?