As the weather gets colder, flu season starts heating up and brings along a slew of flu myths. Rather than believing all the hype, learn what the experts have to say about these flu five common myths.
Myth: The flu vaccine causes the flu
Feeling a little under the weather after getting a shot isn’t unusual, but that doesn’t mean the flu vaccine causes the flu. “The flu shot contains a killed form of the virus, so you cannot get sick from it,” says Laura Markwick, D.N.P., F.N.P.-C. and assistant professor at St. John Fisher College’s Wegmans School of Nursing. “The nasal form of the flu vaccine is made from a live form of the virus, but it is weakend so it does not cause the flu in healthy individuals.”
If you do get the flu shortly after receiving the shot, it wasn’t caused by the shot. “The vaccine takes approximately two weeks to take full effect, so if someone becomes ill shortly after receiving the flu vaccine, it’s most likely due to the fact that he did not have enough immunity built up to provide protection,” says Markwick.
Myth: I got the flu shot last year, so I don’t need it this year
Different strains of the flu virus circulate each year due to mutations that take place in the virus, according to the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care. A new vaccine is developed annually based on predictions regarding the three most prevalent strains of the virus for the coming season. Last year’s most prevalent strains likely aren’t the same as this year’s, so last year’s vaccine likely will not protect you from this year’s flu viruses.
Myth: Taking antibiotics will shorten the flu’s duration
The flu is a virus, not a bacterial infection, so antibiotics will not help cure or shorten the course of the flu. If, however, you get to the doctor within two days of the onset of your symptoms, Tamiflu or Relenza (antivirals) may help shorten the course of your illness. “The effects of Tamiflu and Relenza are modest in otherwise healthy people, shortening the duration of the flu by up to a day and a half. These drugs may decrease the likelihood of serious complications from flu in populations at high risk of serious complications,” notes Eric Udell, N.D., a licensed naturopath and homeopathic expert with Arizona Natural Health Center.
Myth: I can’t get the flu if I’ve gotten a flu shot
Because the flu vaccine is made from best-guess predictions regarding the season’s most prevalent influenza virus strains, there is room for error. While you may be protected against some strains of the virus, you still may be vulnerable to other strains. That doesn’t mean the shot isn’t worth getting, though. The Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care notes that the flu vaccine is 70 to 90 percent effective in preventing the flu in healthy adults and children when the vaccine is a good match to the circulating viruses.
Myth: Covering my cough will prevent the spread of the virus
While covering your nose and mouth will help prevent the spread of the virus, continuing to go to work or school when you’re carrying the virus still puts those around you at risk. “Most healthy adults are contagious beginning one day prior to the onset of symptoms and lasting five to seven days after the onset of symptoms. The virus is transmitted up to six feet within coughing or sneezing. It can also be spread by touching an object that has the virus on it, then touching your nose or mouth,” Markwick notes. If you have the flu or you’re beginning to show signs, the best way to avoid spreading it is to stay home.