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10 popular flu season myths: fact or fiction?

Nov 8, 2018 By Riley Steinmetz
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Last updated November 8th, 2018.

Every year when flu season begins, new rumors begin flying and the old standards pop back up. You’ve heard many of them before: “The flu shot gives you the flu” or “Antibiotics will cure you.” We’re here to help you separate flu season fact from fiction.

1. If you’re young and healthy, you don’t need the flu shot.

FICTION. The flu does not discriminate — anyone can get it. Having the flu feels miserable — much worse than a common cold — and it can be life-threatening for babies, older adults, and people with chronic illnesses or weakened immune systems. The flu shot lowers your risk of getting the flu, makes symptoms less severe if you do get sick, and makes you less contagious to others. If you don’t do it for yourself, consider getting the flu shot to protect those around you, including those who can’t be vaccinated for medical reasons. Over 80,000 people died in the U.S. last flu season. If enough of us (including healthy people) get the flu shot, we can build what’s called herd immunity, which protects everyone (even those who aren’t vaccinated) and prevents outbreaks.

2. Children need a special flu shot.

FACT. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommend different flu shots for children, depending on their age and whether or not they have been vaccinated previously. Some kids may need a two-dose vaccine instead of the standard single-dose. And while many children were a fan of the needle-less nasal spray vaccine option available in the past, it hasn’t been as effective against the flu in recent years, and the American Academy of Pediatrics doesn’t recommend it. Talk to your child’s One Medical provider to find out which flu vaccine option is right for them.

3. You don’t need a flu shot if you’ve gotten one in the past.

FICTION. According to the CDC, every person over the age of 6 months should receive a flu shot annually. Different strains of the flu virus are prevalent each year, so if you haven’t been vaccinated against one of this season’s common strains, you’re vulnerable to them.

4. You need antibiotics to recover from the flu.

FICTION. Antibiotics are used to treat infectious diseases caused by bacteria. Influenza is a virus, so no amount of antibiotics will help you recover. Antivirals can provide some help once you’ve been diagnosed, but they’re most effective when taken within 48 hours of symptoms appearing. They’re usually indicated for high-risk patients and aren’t necessary to recover from the flu. Often, the best way to feel better is to treat your symptoms and support your immune system.

5. The flu shot is the best way to protect yourself against the flu.

FACT. The flu shot is the most effective way to ward off influenza. To avoid contracting or spreading the flu, use common-sense tactics: avoid spending time around sick people; wash your hands with soap and water regularly; avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth; disinfect surfaces and objects used frequently; and stay home from work if you are experiencing flu symptoms.

If you’re concerned that you might have the flu, use Treat Me Now on the One Medical app to get care without leaving the house. When you have the flu — or even just a cold — what you really need is rest!

6. The flu shot can give you the flu.

FICTION. Contrary to popular belief, the flu shot cannot make you sick with the flu. Why? Because the version of the influenza virus in the vaccine is either inactivated (meaning it is no longer infectious) or not the virus at all (instead, it’s a substance designed to trick your body into thinking it’s the flu).

Still, you could feel a little under the weather after receiving the flu shot because it activates your immune system. Don’t worry if you get a headache, fever, nausea, muscle aches, or feel soreness, redness, or swelling near the injection site. These are uncommon but normal side effects and should subside on their own within a couple days.

If you get sick beyond regular side effects, it’s possible that you were exposed to the flu before receiving the shot or before the shot took effect. It takes two weeks after getting the shot for your body to develop immunity to the virus. However, if you think you’ve had a bad reaction to the flu vaccine, you should call our virtual medical medical team or 911 if it’s an emergency.

7. Pregnant women need a special flu shot.

FICTION. According to the CDC, all flu vaccinations are safe for pregnant women, even those containing preservatives. The CDC also recommends that all pregnant women receive a flu shot to protect both mother and baby from potential complications. If you do feel more comfortable with a preservative-free flu shot, your local One Medical office will have those available for you.

8. I should wait until flu season peaks to get vaccinated.

FICTION. It’s important to protect yourself against the flu before outbreaks begin. The first seasonal flu outbreaks can occur as early as October, so it’s best to get your flu shot earlier, but you can do it any time during the season.

For older people, immunity against the flu virus can decline more quickly than it does in younger people. The CDC recommends that people 65+ get the High-Dose vaccine (to trigger a stronger immune response that will last all season) to ensure they stay safe all flu season long. If you need the High-Dose flu shot, One Medical has you covered.

9. Flu shots are expensive.

FICTION. Most health insurance plans will cover your flu shot as a preventive service. If your flu shot isn’t covered by insurance, though, most clinics offer affordable rates. At One Medical, the out-of-pocket cost for a standard, preservative-free flu shot is $40.

10. It’s too late to get my flu shot.

FICTION. While we recommend coming in as soon as possible, it’s still beneficial to get your flu shot later in the season. The flu virus may remain in circulation as late as March, and the flu shot can protect you.


Ready to get your flu shot? Head over to our flu homepage to find your local office.

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Riley Steinmetz

Riley Steinmetz is a communications professional and experienced writer based in the San Francisco Bay Area. She's passionate about all things health and wellness. An avid runner, you can regularly find her participating in races around the Bay Area. She has a Masters degree from Ball State University.

The One Medical blog is published by One Medical, an innovative primary care practice with offices in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, Portland, the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, and Washington, DC.

Any general advice posted on our blog, website, or app is for informational purposes only and is not intended to replace or substitute for any medical or other advice. The One Medical Group entities and 1Life Healthcare, Inc. make no representations or warranties and expressly disclaim any and all liability concerning any treatment, action by, or effect on any person following the general information offered or provided within or through the blog, website, or app. If you have specific concerns or a situation arises in which you require medical advice, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified medical services provider.