Misconceptions about the flu and flu vaccine are very common. And misinformation can keep you from doing exactly what protects you from getting the flu. We’re busting some of the most common flu myths and telling you what you need to know to stay healthy this flu season.
Myth #1: The flu vaccine can give you the flu.
The flu shot is made from an inactivated virus that can't transmit infection. [i] Individuals who report getting sick around the same time that they receive the vaccine were previously exposed to germs that most likely were going to make them sick anyway—the shot cannot stop a virus that is already in the body.
Myth #2: The flu is just a severe cold.
The flu and the common cold are both respiratory illnesses and cause many of the same symptoms, but they are caused by different viruses. [ii] Not only are flu symptoms more intense than cold symptoms, they can also lead to serious health complications, like pneumonia and bacterial infections, which may require hospitalization. Flu treatment may require antiviral medications, but a cold usually improves over the span of a week or so.
How can you tell if it’s a cold or the flu? The CDC breaks down some key differences in the table below:
|Signs and Symptoms||Cold||Flu|
|Onset of symptoms||Gradual||Abrupt|
|Sneezing, stuffy nose||Common||Sometimes|
|Chest discomfort, cough||Mild to moderate||Common|
Myth #3: You can’t spread the flu if you don’t have flu symptoms.
Between 20% and 30% of people carrying the flu virus have no symptoms [iii]—that means that you can spread the virus, even if you feel fine.
Myth #4: You can get the flu by going out in the cold without a jacket.
Flu season coincides with the fall and winter, when temperatures are typically lower, so people tend to assume that the weather is directly correlated with the virus. But, the only way to catch the flu is through exposure to the flu virus.
According to the CDC, the flu virus is contracted from person to person, and people with the virus can spread it to others from up to six feet away. [iv] Most experts believe that the virus is spread primarily through droplets made when a person with the flu sneezes, coughs, or speaks. However, it can also be transmitted when an infected person touches a surface, then a non-infected person touches it and subsequently touches their own mouth or nose before washing their hands.
Myth #5: You don’t need to get the flu shot every year.
The flu virus mutates and changes each year, and the vaccine changes accordingly. So, last year’s flu shot may not protect you from this year’s strain. Even if you are healthy, experts recommend getting the flu shot every year to protect yourself, and those around you, from getting the virus.