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Healthy Habits

Seven Common Myths You May Have Heard About the Flu

Find out the facts about the flu with our flu myth busters.
5 min read
January 5, 2021
Dr. Jill Lundstrom
Board-Certified Pediatrician
Dr. Jill earned her MD at the University of Massachusetts. She believes that all children deserve access to quality healthcare to learn and thrive.

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If you have ever had the flu, you know just how awful it can feel. No one likes feeling sick or having a family member catch the flu. Many people have questions because there is a lot of confusing information floating around about the flu. We’re here to bust the most common flu myths and help you feel confident about protecting your family. 

1. MYTH: You can get the flu from a flu shot.

FACT: No. Flu vaccines cannot cause the flu. 

Flu shots are made from dead viruses, or the vaccine is made from a single protein, which is only a very small part of the virus. These viruses will not make you sick. A flu vaccine from a nasal spray has weakened live viruses, but the vaccine will not cause illness. A flu vaccine from a shot or a nasal spray will not cause the flu.

2. MYTH: Healthy people don’t need to get a flu shot.

FACT: Every adult and every child (over the age of six months) should get the flu shot every year.

It is especially important for older people and people with chronic illnesses to get the flu shot. But, healthy young people should also get vaccinated every year for the flu. Getting the flu shot helps young people protect older people in their lives, like grandparents, teachers, and neighbors. It also prevents young people from getting very sick. Although it is rare, children can get very sick from the flu and end up in the hospital. Last year 188 children died of the flu. The flu shot can help prevent this. 

The CDC recommends that everyone older than six months, including pregnant women, get vaccinated for the flu every year. 

3. MYTH: I got the flu vaccine last year, so I don’t need it again this year.

FACT: To protect yourself and others from the flu, you must get the vaccine every year

The vaccine does not last forever - it becomes less effective after several months. Also, its formula changes each year to protect against the specific viruses circulating that season.

4. MYTH: I got the flu even though I had my shot, so the vaccine must not work.

FACT: Even if you get sick, the vaccine does work

Many people believe they have the flu, but they may have a cold, allergies, or another virus different than the flu. It's also possible for a person to be exposed to the flu before the vaccine kicks in since it takes up to one week to be effective, or a person can catch a strain of flu that isn't protected by the vaccine.

People who get sick with the flu after having the flu shot almost always experience milder symptoms than those who skip the shot. Getting the flu shot may help keep you out of the hospital even if you do get sick

5. MYTH: You can't spread the flu if you're feeling well.

FACT: You can spread the flu without even knowing it. 

About 20% to 30% of people with the flu have no symptoms, and they can get people around them sick.

6. MYTH: The flu is just a bad cold.

FACT: The flu is different than a bad cold. 

Influenza (the flu) is a serious disease that can lead to hospitalization and death, especially for people at high-risk, such as infants and the elderly. A cold is a different virus, which usually does not get as bad. While they have similar symptoms like a stuffy nose, the flu is usually accompanied by a fever and can lead to hospitalization much more often than a cold. 

The flu kills anywhere from 3,000 to 49,000 people in the U.S. and sends about 200,000 people to the hospital each year.

  1. MYTH: You can take antibiotics for the flu.

FACT: Antibiotics do not work on viruses. 

Antibiotics do not help with the flu. Antibiotics treat different types of illnesses that are caused by bacteria. Since the flu is caused by a virus (not a bacteria), antibiotics will not help with the flu.

To learn more about the flu, read our recent blog What You Need to Know About Flu Season this Year or Is it Allergies, the Flu, or COVID-19? 

You can also join our weekly Ask a Doctor webinars to ask our providers your flu and other health questions. Register here.

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