13 Popular Flu Season Myths: Fact or Fiction?
Updated September 7, 2022.
Every year when flu season begins, rumors begin flying and old myths pop back up. You’ve heard many of them before: “The flu shot gives you the flu” or “Antibiotics will cure you.” We know it may be hard to separate fact from fiction, so we are here we break down the top myths and misconceptions:
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 — often 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. If enough of us (including healthy people) get the flu shot, we can reduce the risk for everyone (even those who aren’t vaccinated) and prevent outbreaks.
2. Children need a special flu shot.
FICTION: Starting at 6 months of age, children are able to get the seasonal flu shot. Some children between 6 months and 8 years will need 2 doses of the flu vaccine to be protected. If it is the first time your child is receiving the flu vaccine or your child has only received one flu vaccine in the past, he or she will need 2 doses of the vaccine this season. It is best to begin with the first dose as early as possible. The second dose should be given at least 28 days after the first dose.
While many children prefer the needle-less, nasal spray vaccine option, it is not for everyone. By having a conversation with your child’s healthcare provider, you can work together to find the right option for your child.
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 circulate each year, so it’s important to be vaccinated on an annual basis to protect yourself against the season’s most common strains.
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 may be indicated for high-risk individuals, but aren’t usually necessary to recover from the flu if you are generally healthy. They’re most effective when taken within 48 hours of symptoms appearing. 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 one of the most effective ways to ward off influenza. To avoid contracting or spreading the flu, use common-sense tactics: wear your mask when in crowded indoor areas or when caring for someone who is sick, avoid spending time around sick people if possible, 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-like 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 — rest is your best medicine, but it is important to check in with your primary care provider as COVID-19 can present with the same symptoms.
6. The flu shot can give you the flu.
FICTION. Contrary to popular belief, the flu shot cannot make you catch 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). The nasal spray contains a weakened version of the virus that isn’t able to reproduce outside of the nasal area.
Still, you could feel a little under the weather after receiving the flu shot because it activates your immune system. It is possible to have mild side effects, such as a headache, fever, nausea, muscle aches, or feel soreness, redness, or swelling near the injection site. These side effects typically subside on their own within a couple of days. If your symptoms persist or are severe, contact your primary care team and they will be happy to help assess you further.
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 feel more comfortable with a preservative-free flu shot, talk to your primary care provider.
8. I should wait until flu season peaks to get vaccinated.
FICTION. It’s important to protect yourself against the flu before outbreaks begin, and it takes two weeks after getting the shot for your body to develop immunity to the virus. The CDC recommends flu vaccination in September or October for most people.
For older people, immunity against the flu virus can decline more quickly than it does in younger people. For this reason, the CDC does not recommend that older adults get the vaccine early. Adults ages 65+ should get the high-dose vaccine (to trigger a stronger immune response that will last all season) in September and October. If you need the high-dose flu shot, talk to your primary care provider.
9. The flu shot will protect me against COVID-19.
FICTION. The flu vaccine isn’t designed to protect against COVID-19 directly. It’s important to highlight that the flu shot is not a substitution for the COVID-19 vaccine, and the best way to protect yourself from both illnesses is to receive both vaccines. Because flu and COVID-19 share many of the same symptoms and are hard to distinguish from each other, it is especially important to get both vaccines to reduce your risk of illness, as well as conserve healthcare resources and lessen the burden on healthcare systems.
10. It’s possible to get COVID-19 and flu at the same time.
FACT. As the flu and COVID-19 are caused by different viruses, it is possible to have both respiratory illnesses at the same time. Getting a flu shot can help prevent you from getting the flu and save you from potentially dealing with two viruses at the same time.
11. Wearing a mask can also help slow the spread of the flu.
FACT. Because COVID-19 and the flu are transmitted in similar ways, the same measures we’ve taken to slow the spread of COVID-19 can also protect us against the flu. This is why we saw such a mild flu season in the winter of 2020-2021. You can protect yourself and others by wearing a mask in crowded indoor areas, as well as practicing good hand hygiene. For more information on flu and COVID-19, see here.
12. 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 and pharmacies will offer it for free or at a low cost.
13. It’s too late to get my flu shot.
FICTION. While we recommend getting vaccinated in September or October, it’s still beneficial to get your flu shot later in the season. The flu virus may remain in circulation as late as May and the flu shot can still protect you.
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