The only thing more contagious than the flu is misinformation. Every year, when I remind my patients to get their flu shot, I hear the same incorrect notions. As a physician, I’d like to dispel a few common myths – and hopefully help people prevent catching and spreading the flu.
Myth #1: The Flu Shot Gives You the Flu
This is by and large the most pervasive and persistent myth surrounding the influenza vaccine. The flu vaccine contains an inactivated virus. In other words, the virus itself is dead and can’t possibly give you the flu. What it does do is trigger your immune system to recognize the virus as a threat and build up the antibodies to fight it off. This is why some people might feel a little weak after getting the shot. But that weakness is not the flu. If you’ve ever had the misfortune of catching the flu, you know the difference.
The other reason this myth persists is that the flu vaccine is given during cold season. If you happen to catch an upper respiratory infection or other illness shortly after getting the flu vaccine, you could mistake it for the flu.
A third, and powerful reason for this prevalence of this myth: sometimes people get the flu after they get vaccinated – but not because they’ve been vaccinated. The vaccine takes two weeks to protect you, during which time you could get sick. If you catch the flu shortly after your vaccination, you might logically (but erroneously) conclude that it was the shot that made you ill.
Myth #2: Antibiotics Treat the Flu
Antibiotics do nothing against the flu. Antibiotics target bacteria. The flu is caused by a virus. No amount of amoxicillin or azithromycin will treat the flu.
While we can prescribe an antiviral called Tamiflu within the first 48 hours of someone developing symptoms of the flu, it only reduces the flu symptoms by approximately 1 day. Tamiflu can keep the flu virus from multiplying, but it does not actually “cure” the flu. It also comes with side effects including nausea, vomiting, headache and in some cases, confusion, seizures and abnormal behavior. Tamiflu is usually reserved for those at increased risk of complications from the flu such as the elderly, the pregnant, and those with chronic health conditions or a weak immune system. So, while it effective at reducing the risk of complications from the flu, Tamiflu is not a benign cure-all. The better way is to prevent the flu, through vaccination.
Myth #3: “I Never Get Sick”
Many of my patients claim to be invincible. “I have not gotten the flu so far, so I never will.” I’ve yet to meet a person who was impervious to all diseases. So, unless you’re Superman, I suggest rethinking your luck.
To my “invincible” patients, I liken the flu vaccine to car insurance. You might be a great driver, but you have car insurance just in case. It’s a prevention, a way of protecting yourself, because you can never predict what the next moment of life will bring.
Last flu season was awful, with record hospitalization rates and high numbers of pediatric influenza-related deaths. As we head into this coming flu season, I am imploring people to, please, get vaccinated.
Get your kids vaccinated. Tell your friends and co-workers. Vaccines are often free and easy to access, either through your neighborhood pharmacy, your doctor or through urgent care clinics like Hoag’s.
Vaccines can help prevent the flu or at least minimize the severity of the symptoms. Protect yourself, and don’t be fooled by the myths.