It’s that time again: Flu season is here! The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that influenza cases begin in the fall and typically peak in February. Positive tests are often seen as late as May. Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation about the flu, including details about the vaccine, treatment, and recovery. Today, I want to look closer at six of these common myths (three about the flu and three about the vaccine) and share the truth behind each one.
Three Misconceptions About the Flu
- The flu isn’t a serious illness: Because we hear about it so often and many individuals do recover, people don’t think of the flu as a serious illness. According to the CDC, though, the 2019-2020 flu season led to at least 18 million medical visits, 24,000 deaths, and 410,000 hospitalizations. That sounds pretty serious, right? Outside of a respiratory infection and bad cold symptoms, other complications can develop too, such as sinus and ear infections, pneumonia, and heart or brain inflammation. People with weakened immune systems are particularly vulnerable to more severe side effects and outcomes.
- You can catch the flu from cold weather: Because flu season coincides with winter time, many people believe the illness is related to freezing temperatures. In truth, the only way to catch the flu is from exposure to the virus. People with the virus can spread it to others as far as six feet away, primarily through droplets made by coughing, sneezing, or talking. School-age children are especially exposed, as they spend much of their day in close contact with their peers.
- You can’t spread the flu if you’re feeling well: 20 to 30 percent of people carrying the virus have no symptoms. Fortunately, with a vaccination, you’ll be better protected against these silent spreaders.
Three Myths About the Flu Shot
- Healthy people don’t need a flu shot: Everyone can benefit from being vaccinated. The CDC currently recommends yearly vaccination against influenza for anybody older than six months. Because the virus mutates each year, it’s important to receive protection and build immunity to the strains most likely to cause an outbreak. During their first vaccination, children will receive a booster shot about a month after their first dose to improve the effectiveness of the shot. Additionally, it is especially vital for pregnant women to receive the shot, as their immune systems are weaker than usual.
- You can catch the flu from the vaccine: Sometimes, patients get sick after receiving their flu shot, leading people to believe that the vaccine causes illness. However, the shot is made from an inactivated virus that cannot transmit infection. Plus, its effects don’t appear immediately, as it takes a week or two to receive protection from the vaccine. With a global pandemic still very much impacting our everyday lives, it’s more important than ever that you get vaccinated.
- The vaccine doesn’t work because I still got the flu: There are several types of flu viruses circulating at any given time. The vaccine is specific to one strain, so yes, you may get the flu even if you are vaccinated. However, with a vaccination, you’re less likely to experience severe side effects or spread the virus, as you are better protected from the illness.
Your local drugstore or grocery store may have walk-in flu shots available. You can also visit your primary care physician to receive the vaccine.