Break out the tissues and hand sanitizer. Flu season, which typically begins in the fall, is in full swing. With it comes a slew of misinformation about the flu shot, which is why some people don’t get one. But the flu vaccine is your best protection against the virus (and the fatigue, fever and body aches it causes). Fortunately, it’s not too late to get vaccinated. We’re here to debunk a few of the most common myths about the flu shot to help keep you well all winter long. (For personalized advice on cold, flu and other symptoms, download our free iOS app, AskMD. Don’t have an Apple mobile device? Try it on Sharecare.)
1. The flu shot will give me the flu.
One of the most common misconceptions about the flu vaccine is that it will give you the flu. After all, vaccines are made with the viruses they are supposed to protect against. While you may experience some short-term side effects from the flu shot – such as soreness at the injection site, low-grade fever or aches – you won’t get the flu. Newer forms of the flu vaccine don’t contain whole strains of the virus. Instead, they’re made up only of those parts required by the body to create an immune response that will protect you from later infections. Watch this video from preventive medicine specialist David Katz, MD, to learn more about how the flu shot works.
2. The flu isn’t a big deal, so I don’t need the vaccine.
You have a fever, body aches, maybe a cough. Doesn’t sound like a big deal, right? If it’s the flu, it can be. For some high-risk groups, including children under 2, adults over 65, pregnant women and those with chronic health conditions, the flu can be especially dangerous. And pneumonia, one of the most severe complications of the flu, can lead to hospitalization and even death in rare cases. So protect yourself; make sure to get your annual flu shot. And if you have flu symptoms, Sharecare expert Robin Miller, MD, says you should do your immune system a favor and stay home.
3. I’ll still get the flu even if I get the flu shot.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the effectiveness of the flu vaccine depends on two things: the age/health of the patient, and the similarity between the strain of the virus in the vaccine and the strain infecting your community (the closer the strains, the more effective the flu shot). Note that it takes two weeks for the shot to provide full protection, so you may still contract the virus during that window. If you feel flu-like symptoms long after your shot, it’s possible that the vaccine wasn’t a good match with the virus – or that you have a cold, bronchitis or sinusitis, which aren’t prevented by the flu vaccine. Not sure if you have a cold or the flu? Here a few easy ways to tell the difference.
4. I got my flu shot last year. I don’t need to get another one.
Every year, researchers work to determine which strains of the influenza virus will be most prevalent in the population. They then create the flu vaccine based on the results of that research. The strain circulating this year could be completely different than the one you were vaccinated against last year, so it’s important to make sure your flu shot is up-to-date. Another reason to keep up with your yearly flu vaccine? The body’s immunity decreases over time, so to ensure optimal protection from the flu, it’s important to get vaccinated each time flu season rolls around. To further protect yourself from colds and the flu this season, load up on these immune-boosting foods.
5. I can take antibiotics for the flu if I get it.
As the name suggests, antibiotics are used to fight bacterial infections, not viral ones, making them an ineffective weapon against the flu (and the common cold). In fact, you could actually be doing yourself more harm than good. Taking an antibiotic when you don’t need it ups your chances of later acquiring a bacterial infection that is resistant to antibiotic treatment. However, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics if you develop a bacterial infection, like a sinus or ear infection, as a complication of the flu.