Top Seven Flu Myths Debunked

Sick woman with thermometer in mouth

Everyone from your neighbor to your mother-in-law probably has an opinion about the flu shot. While getting vaccinated in the fall is still the best way to avoid the flu, there's a lot of misinformation out there.

Our experts debunked the top flu myths to help you and your loved ones stay healthy this year:

1 Myth: The flu vaccine can give you the flu

Fact: The flu shot delivered via a needle contains “inactive” virus that simply cannot cause an infection. While the vaccine delivered by nasal spray contains live viruses, experts have weakened them so they cannot give you the flu.

Nonetheless, it's common to experience some symptoms unrelated to the flu virus, such as tenderness or redness in the area where you received the shot. Some people also may develop achiness, a mild fever or a runny nose.

Those who believe they came down with the flu after getting vaccinated were most likely suffering from an unrelated upper-respiratory sickness or already were infected with flu when they received the shot. It takes about two weeks for the vaccine to start preventing flu.

2 Myth: It's no big deal to get the flu.

Fact: Many people use the term “flu” to refer to a cold or other respiratory illness. However, influenza is a serious disease that can lead to hospitalization and death, especially for high-risk populations such as infants and the elderly.

Depending on the severity of strains, each year the flu kills anywhere from 3,000 to 49,000 people in the U.S. and sends about 200,000 to the hospital.

3 Myth: I'm young and healthy, so I don't need to get the flu shot.

Fact: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, recommends that everyone 6 months and older get vaccinated for the flu. That's because influenza is a contagious disease and can lead to serious illness, including pneumonia, as well as missed work or even hospitalization for otherwise healthy people.

The CDC estimates that vaccinations prevented 79,000 flu hospitalizations and 6.6 million flu-associated illnesses during the 2012-2013 influenza season.

Healthy people also can spread the virus to others who are particularly susceptible, including newborn babies, senior citizens and those with weakened immune systems.

Those who believe they came down with the flu after getting vaccinated are most likely suffering from an unrelated upper-respiratory sickness or were already infected with flu when they received the shot. It takes about two weeks for the vaccine to start preventing flu.

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

Fact: Many people believe they have the flu but in fact are suffering from a different respiratory virus. It's also possible that you were exposed to influenza before the vaccine kicked in, or you came down with a strain of flu that wasn't included in that year's shot.

Nonetheless, vaccinated people who do get sick with flu normally experience milder symptoms than those who skip the shot.

5 Myth: I can't get the flu vaccine because I'm pregnant.

Fact: The CDC recommends that all pregnant women get vaccinated against the flu. In fact, expecting moms have a higher risk for serious complications from influenza than other women of reproductive age. While flu vaccine comes in two forms, pregnant women should only receive it via a shot, not by nasal spray.

Getting the flu shot while pregnant even protects your baby from the flu for months after delivery. That's particularly important because infants younger than 6 months can't get flu shots of their own and are more likely to suffer serious complications from the flu.

7 Myth: The flu vaccine has many side effects.

Fact: The flu shot has one of the best safety records of any vaccine, and the majority of side effects are mild. The most common complaint after flu vaccination is soreness and tenderness at the injection site.

7 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. That's because the vaccine becomes less effective over time and its formulation changes each year to protect against specific viruses circulating that season.

 

Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Medical Center.

This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to replace the advice of your doctor or health care provider. We encourage you to discuss with your doctor any questions or concerns you may have.