5 common flu and flu shot myths that can hurt you

Why the flu shot doesn’t make you sick and other flu myths debunked.

As influenza (flu) season hits full stride, you may hear a lot of talk about getting sick from the flu shot and ineffective ways to avoid getting the flu. While this information is likely meant to be helpful, it can cause great harm.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates 900,000 people were hospitalized and more than 80,000 people died during last year’s flu season. While this year’s flu season may be far less severe, everyone needs to take the flu seriously to protect themselves and others.

“Even a healthy person can’t predict how serious a case of the flu might be,” said Mary Rademaker, M.D., medical director for Norton Immediate Care Centers. “Preventing the flu is the best way to keep from potentially winding up in the hospital, or perhaps the emergency department or an immediate care center.”

Norton Healthcare’s 14 immediate care centers saw nearly 14,400 cases of the flu from mid-November last year through early February this year.

Let’s debunk five common flu myths:

Can the flu shot make you sick?

This rumor just won’t go away. The flu vaccine is made from an inactivated virus, so it cannot cause infection. It takes one to two weeks for the vaccine to fully protect you, so if someone gets sick shortly after getting a flu shot, they likely were already exposed to the virus and were going to get sick anyway.

Do young, healthy people need to get a flu shot?

Current CDC guidelines recommend yearly vaccination against flu for almost everyone older than 6 months of age, including pregnant women. Flu infection can cause serious complications, hospitalization or death among otherwise healthy children and adults of all ages.

Flu Treatment When You Need It

Norton Healthcare has convenient options for flu symptom treatment in kids and adults, including 24/7 access to a provider in person or online.

Get Better

I’ve heard that swabbing Neosporin in your nose prevents the flu.

This untrue advice is a spin-off of another internet claim that advises putting an antibacterial ointment such as Neosporin in your nostrils before air travel to zap germs. Any protection offered by such ointments works only against bacteria. A virus causes the flu, so antibacterials are of no help.

Do antibiotics fight flu?

If you do get the flu, antibiotics do nothing to treat it because they do not work on viruses. Antiviral medications, such as Tamiflu, can help lessen the flu’s impact. Antivirals need to be taken within 48 hours of the first sign of flu symptoms. Additionally, over-the-counter fever reducers (such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen) and congestion fighters can offer some relief.

Can I prevent the flu by washing my hands regularly?

Frequent hand washing is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of germs, but hand washing alone cannot keep you from getting the flu. Influenza is spread through the air via saliva droplets that can land on you and get into your nose, mouth and eyes. The flu can live up to eight hours on surfaces, so you can pick it up by touching contaminated surfaces. Do wash your hands often with soap and water, but the No. 1 way to avoid the flu is to get the flu shot.

Common flu symptoms include fever, chills, fatigue, cough and muscle or body aches. Some people may have vomiting and diarrhea, however these are more common in children than adults.

“If you are mildly ill with flu symptoms, seeing your health provider or visiting an immediate care center are good options,” Dr. Rademaker said. “The important thing is not to ignore flu symptoms, especially if they seem to be getting worse.”

Is it the flu or a cold?

Signs and symptoms Influenza Cold
Symptom onset Abrupt Gradual
Fever Usually; lasts 3-4 days Rare
Aches Usually; often severe Slight
Chills Fairly common Uncommon
Fatigue, weakness Usual Sometimes
Sneezing Sometimes Common
Stuffy nose Sometimes Common
Sore throat Sometimes Common
Chest discomfort, cough Common; can be severe Mild to moderate; hacking cough
Headache Common Rare

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