Common Myths About the Flu Shot

Influenza season has arrived, and the healthcare community and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) encourage people to get vaccinated for the virus. Although a stomach bug is often mistaken for being ‘the flu,’ influenza is actually a serious and contagious respiratory virus. Here are some other common myths about "the flu."

Myth 1: You can catch the flu from the vaccine.
Truth: The flu shot is made from an inactivated virus or viral particles that can't transmit infection. However, the shot is intended to stimulate an immune response so that if you are exposed to the virus you are ready to fight it off. So, if you get a fever, chills, body aches after getting the vaccine, you body is working hard to develop that immune response and that is very normal.

Myth 2: Healthy people don't need to be vaccinated.
Truth: While it's especially important for people who have a chronic illness to get the flu shot, anyone — even healthy folks — can benefit from being vaccinated. Current CDC guidelines recommend yearly vaccination against influenza for everyone older than 6 months of age, including pregnant women.

Myth 3: Getting the flu vaccination is all you need to do to protect yourself from the flu.
Truth: Getting a flu shot does not guarantee that you won’t catch the flu, but it should lessen your illness if you do. There are a number of steps you can take to protect yourself during flu season besides vaccination. Avoid contact with people who have the flu, wash your hands frequently, and consider taking anti-viral medications if you were exposed to the flu before being vaccinated.

Myth 4: The flu is just a bad cold.
Truth: Influenza may cause bad cold symptoms, like sore throat, runny nose, sneezing, hoarseness, and cough. But in the United States alone, 36,000 people die and more than 200,000 are hospitalized each year because of the flu. Even if it doesn't prevent you from getting the flu, it can decrease the chance of severe symptoms.

Myth 5: You can't spread the flu if you're feeling well or are otherwise healthy.
Actually, 20% to 30% of people carrying the influenza virus have no symptoms. Your healthcare provider and their staff vaccinate every year to protect not only themselves, but those they come in contact with even though they are otherwise healthy.

Myth 6: You don't need to get a flu shot every year.
The influenza virus changes (mutates) each year. So, getting vaccinated each year is important to make sure you have immunity to the strains most likely to cause an outbreak each season.

Myth 7: You can catch the flu from going out in cold weather without a coat, with wet hair or by sitting near a drafty window.
The only way to catch the flu is by being exposed to the influenza virus. Flu season coincides with the cold weather, most commonly, because of close contact with the virus through school activities, indoor family and community events, and other things that bring us into close quarters with someone who may be infected.

Myth 8: Feed a cold, starve a fever.
If you have the flu (or a cold) and a fever, you need more fluids. There's little reason to increase or decrease how much you eat. Though you may have no appetite, "starving" yourself will accomplish little. And poor nutrition will not help you get better. Get lots of rest!

Myth 9: Chicken soup will speed your recovery from the flu.
Hot liquids can soothe a sore throat and provide much needed fluids. But chicken soup has no other specific qualities that can help fight the flu.

Myth 10: If you have a high fever with the flu that lasts more than a day or two, antibiotics may be necessary.
Antibiotics work well against bacteria, but they aren't effective for a viral infection like the flu. You may, however, develop a bacterial infection as a complication of the flu, so it may be a good idea to get checked out if your symptoms drag on or worsen. It will take 7-10 days for the flu to run its course in normal cases.

Myth 11: The Flu shot doesn’t work.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, when the vaccine is well matched to the viruses for that season, the vaccine can cut your risk of serious flu related illness by 40-60%.

Myth 12: I’ve been exposed to the flu and am immune.
It’s true, our bodies can develop natural immune responses. However, the flu virus is always mutating, changing so it looks different to the body, making it harder to fight off. The vaccine prepares your body by developing these immunities for the most likely virus of the season.

Myth 13: The Flu shot contains nasty chemicals.
Many of the harsh chemicals once used to prepare the vaccines are no longer used in their production or have been reduced to levels no longer harmful to human beings. Thimerosal, for instance, has been removed from most available vaccines. Ask your provider about the vaccine they are administering.

The flu is a good example of how medical myths can get in the way of good medical care. When it's flu season, take the necessary steps to stay healthy. That includes separating fact from myth.

Sources: Harvard Health Publishing: November 12, 2018; CDC Flu Shot Myths; "Fatherly Advice"