The flu, or influenza, is a viral infection. It occurs in your respiratory (breathing) area, and affects your throat, lungs, and nose.
There are a lot of myths surrounding the flu. A myth is something that a group of people has come to believe is true, but it is not. For example, some people think that the flu is the same thing as the stomach flu. This is a myth. The stomach flu, or stomach virus, is a different infection. It is caused by other viruses or problems, such as norovirus or food poisoning.
A lot of people also question the flu vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) puts out influenza vaccine recommendations every year. Except for rare cases, the CDC states that everyone over the age of 6 months should get the annual flu vaccine. Flu shots are given by injection with a needle or by nasal spray.
Path to improved health
What are the most common flu myths?
Myth #1: The flu is the same thing as a cold and it is harmless.
It is common to confuse the flu with a cold. Both have similar symptoms and often treated in similar ways. However, colds are mild and last longer. The flu usually develops suddenly and lasts 2 to 3 days. The flu also is contagious and can be dangerous.
Symptoms of the flu include:
- Fever of 102°F or higher.
- Chills and sweats.
- Nausea and vomiting.
- Muscle aches and headaches.
- Chest pain.
- Stuffy nose.
- Loss of appetite.
Myth #2: You can’t die from the flu.
People who have severe cases of the flu or are high risk can die from the flu. High-risk people include:
- Babies or children up to 4 years old.
- Anyone 65 years of age or older.
- Women who are pregnant, trying to get pregnant, or breastfeeding.
- Anyone who has a low or weakened immune system.
- Anyone who has a chronic health condition.
- Anyone who lives in in a long-term care center, such as a nursing home.
These people are at greater risk of having health problems that lead to death. It is even more important that they receive an annual flu vaccine. It prevents severe cases or problems related to flu. It also lowers their chance of hospitalization.
If you aren’t high risk, you still should get a flu vaccine. It protects everyone around you. This is especially true if you work in health care or care for high-risk people.
Myth #3: You won’t get the flu if you get the flu vaccine.
The flu vaccine helps to prevent the flu. Every year, its purpose is to protect you from the main types of influenza. However, you still can get the flu. You could have been infected with the flu before you got the vaccine. You also could get another type of flu that the vaccine does not cover. Most likely, you will have a milder case than if you hadn’t gotten the flu shot.
There are other things you can do to lower your risk of getting the flu. These include:
- Washing your hands often.
- Covering your mouth when you sneeze and cough.
- Using household cleaning spray to disinfect surfaces and objects.
- Using hand sanitizer.
- Washing laundry of sick people separate from other items.
- Keeping your children, especially newborns, away from anyone who is sick.
Myth #4: You won’t get the flu if you take vitamin C.
Vitamins cannot prevent the flu.
Myth #5: The flu vaccine will give you the flu.
You cannot get the flu from a flu shot. This form of vaccine is made up of dead viruses that can’t infect you. The nasal spray flu vaccine is made up of live but weakened viruses. They won’t give you the flu, either.
Even though you can’t get the flu from the vaccine, you can have side effects. The area of the shot could be red, sore, or swollen. You also may have muscle aches, headaches, or a low fever for a short period of time. These effects occur when your body responds to fight the new virus. You also can have flu-like symptoms from other health issues, such as a bad cold.
Myth #6: You shouldn’t get the flu vaccine if you’re pregnant or breastfeeding.
It is important to get the flu shot if you are pregnant, trying to get pregnant, or breastfeeding. People who are pregnant are more likely to need to be hospitalized if they have the flu, so it’s extra important to get the vaccine. The flu shot is safe for you and your baby.
If you don’t get the flu shot and develop the flu, you could give it to your baby. Your doctor might prescribe antiviral medicine to reduce symptoms. They also might suggest another form of feeding until you are better.
Myth #7: You shouldn’t get the flu vaccine if you have an egg allergy.
The amount of egg allergen in the flu vaccine is very small. It is safe for people with egg allergies, even kids, to get the flu shot. Serious allergic reactions are rare. If you are at risk, doctors recommend getting the shot at your doctor’s office instead of a drugstore. This allows your doctor to monitor any potential reactions. Or, you can get one of the types of flu vaccine that don’t have any egg allergen at all. You can ask your doctor what kind of vaccine they recommend for you.
Myth #8: You don’t need to get the flu vaccine if you’re healthy.
It’s good to live a healthy lifestyle, but it can’t prevent the flu. It is an infection that spreads easily. Everyone over 6 months of age should get the flu vaccine, except for rare cases.
Myth #9: You shouldn’t get the flu shot if you’re sick or already have had the flu.
It is okay to get the flu vaccine when you have a mild sickness. However, your doctor may suggest waiting until you’re better. It also is okay to get the flu shot if you have cancer.
You still should get the flu shot if you’ve already had the flu. The flu vaccine protects you against several types of the virus.
Myth #10: You don’t need to get the flu vaccine every year.
The flu is caused by the influenza virus, which can change from year to year. Because of this, the flu vaccine is updated to protect against the main types of flu. You should get the flu vaccine every year at the beginning of the flu season. Flu season occurs in the colder months of year, usually some time from October to May.
Myth #11: Everyone should get the flu vaccine the same way.
Because young children and older adults can have more trouble fighting off the flu, there are different vaccines for different ages. Children getting their first flu vaccine may need two doses, four weeks apart. Special versions of the flu vaccine are made for adults aged 65 and over. They can also use the same vaccine as other adults. If you have questions about which vaccine to use, ask your doctor.
Myth #12: There’s one best time to get the flu vaccine, and if I don’t get it then, it’s not worth doing.
Ideally, people should be vaccinated before the flu starts spreading. The problem is that we don’t know ahead of time when that will be. In many places, flu vaccine is available starting in July or August. Some children getting vaccinated for the first time need two doses four weeks apart, so for them starting in July or August might be a good idea. People who are pregnant should receive the flu vaccine in the last three months of pregnancy to protect them and their children. Because protection against the flu doesn’t last as long in older people, people aged 65 or older, should receive vaccination in September or October.
It’s a good idea for everyone to try to get the flu vaccine by the end of October. But if you haven’t gotten the vaccine by then, go ahead and get it later. Remember, flu season is often worst in February and can last all the way through May.
Myth #13: The flu vaccine will make me more susceptible to COVID-19.
There is no evidence that getting a flu vaccine increases your risk of getting sick from a coronavirus.
Things to consider
There are rare cases where you should not get the flu shot. You should not get the vaccine if you have had Guillain-Barré syndrome. This is a condition that affects your nerves. Some people also have severe reactions or adverse side effects to the flu vaccine. Talk to your doctor first if this includes you.
Most cases of the flu can be treated at home and will go away on their own. Make sure you drink a lot of liquids and get extra rest. Adults can take aspirin, ibuprofen, or over-the-counter flu medicine to reduce symptoms. Check with your doctor before giving your child any medicine to treat the flu. They can suggest what type and amount of medicine you can give.
If symptoms continue or if you are at high risk, contact your doctor right away. They can perform an exam and order tests to confirm influenza or rule it out.
Signs that the flu is getting worse include:
- Prolonged, high fever.
- Troubled breathing.
- Skin color turning blue (babies).
- Constant chest pain or pressure.
- Changes in mental state, such as not waking up or acting confused or disoriented.
- Continued vomiting.
- Severe sinus pain in your face.
- Swollen glands in your neck or jaw.
- Ear aches or drainage.
Questions to ask your doctor
- Is it okay to get the flu vaccine at grocery stores and drug stores?
- Does having asthma increase your risk of getting the flu?
- What’s the difference between the flu and a respiratory infection?
Copyright © American Academy of Family Physicians
This information provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. Talk to your family doctor to find out if this information applies to you and to get more information on this subject.