Every year, our news feeds buzz with questions, concerns, and (mis)information about the flu virus. To clear the air—and help you stay as healthy as possible—we consulted with the experts on some of the biggest myths out there.
Myth #1: The Flu Shot Can Give You The Flu
Contrary to what skeptical friends may have told you, the flu shot cannot, in fact, give you the flu.
“The vaccine is made up of a killed version of the virus—meaning it’s actually impossible to contract the flu from the shot because the virus is dead,” says Joshua Scott, M.D., primary care physician at Cedars-Sinai Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles.
So, why the myth? It takes about two weeks for your body to produce flu-fighting antibodies after you get the shot, explains Jean Moorjani, M.D., pediatrician at Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children. Many people contract the flu—or another virus—before the vaccine takes effect and assume the shot caused that illness.
Myth #2: If You’re Young and Healthy, You Don’t Need To Worry About The Flu
While it’s true that the flu can cause more severe symptoms in older people, newborns, and people with compromised immune systems, anyone can catch the virus, says Moorjani.
“People of all ages, and otherwise healthy people, can get the flu,” she says. “That’s why we advise everybody to get the flu shot.”
Not convinced? According to the CDC, adults between the ages of 18 and 64 have actually accounted for 60 percent of reported flu hospitalizations in recent years.
Related: When A Cold Is Not Just A Cold
Your own health aside, consider getting the flu shot your duty to your more vulnerable loved ones and neighbors. “Getting the vaccine keeps low-risk folks from transmitting the virus to people with weaker immune systems,” says Scott. Higher-risk folks can experience severe symptoms and complications from influenza, including death.
Myth #3: Pregnant Women Shouldn’t Get The Flu Shot
Despite some questioning around the safety of flu vaccines for pregnant women, little research has identified any reason for moms-to-be to forgo the vaccine. In fact, one 2018 study showed that getting a flu shot reduced a pregnant woman’s risk of being hospitalized with the flu by 40 percent.
“Actually, the recommendation is for all women to receive the flu vaccine during pregnancy to prevent catastrophic complications to the mom and baby,” says Sherry Ross, M.D., O.B./G.Y.N. at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica. Research has associated contracting a feverish flu while pregnant with higher risk of eight birth defects.
Not only is the flu shot very safe and recommended for pregnant women, but it also provides passive protection to the newborn, assures board-certified allergist and immunologist David Erstein, M.D. Since babies can’t get the vaccine until they’re six months old, Moms who get the shot during pregnancy help protect their newborns from the virus.
Myth #4: You Should Ask For Antibiotics If You’ve Got The Flu
Antibiotics cannot cure viruses or help protect you from catching them. They’re only good for fighting infections caused by bacteria (such as ear infections, strep throat, and sinus infections).
If anything, your doc will prescribe an anti-viral medication, which may help curtail the severity and duration of your suffering. (As long as you start taking it within 48 hours of having symptoms.) Thing is, these meds often come with side-effects like nausea, dizziness, headache, and diarrhea.
However, they’re not your only options: Certain homeopathic medicines, which are made from natural sources, may offer relief from the flu, too. Oscillo (oscillococcinum), for instance, has been shown to effectively reduce symptoms like cough, sore throat, and achiness.
Myth #5: If You Get The Flu, It’s Because The Vaccine Didn’t Work
While the flu shot isn’t a sure thing, the CDC predicts that it reduces the risk of flu illness by 40 to 60 percent.
According to Scott, that’s pretty good. The influenza virus changes every year and we must base vaccines on the prior year’s virus, he says.
Plus, even if you do get the flu, you’ll likely have less severe symptoms and spend less time sick if you’ve gotten the vaccine.
Myth #6: The Vaccine Is Your Only Prevention Option
Yes, the flu shot is the best way to protect yourself during flu season. However, there are a number of other ways to keep your immune system strong.
First, the obvious: Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds frequently. We’re talking before meals, after the gym, and while at work. “Viruses are airborne and can live on surfaces like doorknobs, keyboards, and even dumbbells,” says Scott. Go easy on the high-fives and cheek kisses, too.
From there, you can also boost your overall immunity by adding a few specific supplements to your routine. Kristine Arthur, M.D., internist at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center in California recommends two in particular: vitamin C and zinc. Evidence suggests both offer immune system benefits—especially this time of year. In fact, both have been shown to help you bounce back from feeling under the weather, if not avoid it all together.
A number of other nutrients and supplements can also help support your immune system during flu season. These include:
- probiotics, which support immune and gut function
- vitamin D, which plays a key role in immune function
- echinacea, which may stimulate the immune system and support respiratory health
- vitamin E, an important antioxidant
Of course, maintaining a strong foundation of overall health and wellness is also key during flu season. “Eating healthy foods and getting enough sleep improve the immune system, which ultimately improves your resilience,” says Scott.