10 Flu Myths Debunked

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older man drinking tea after learning about common flu myths for seniors
October 10, 2023

Flu season—the period of heightened respiratory infections that occurs every year—is a time of concern for medical professionals and individuals alike. Unfortunately, along with the flu itself comes a handful of myths and misconceptions about it. It’s important to understand these flu myths while staying healthy during flu season.

10 Common Flu Myths

These myths not only create confusion but also contribute to the mass spread of misinformation, which can lead to people failing to prepare for or treat influenza properly.

1. The Flu Shot Can Give You the Flu

One of the biggest flu myths is the belief that getting the flu shot can give you the flu. This misconception is often based on experiences where individuals may have felt slight symptoms shortly after receiving the vaccine. However, we must understand that the flu vaccine contained inactivated, or weakened, virus particles that cannot cause the flu to develop. Individuals may experience mild symptoms, like soreness at the injection site or a low-grade fever, which are typically short-lived and are signs that the body is building immunity to the virus. 

So, why do flu shots contain virus particles in the first place? Flu vaccines work by exposing the immune system to small particles of the flu virus. These pieces are typically proteins found on the surface of the virus, that gave been inactivated, or killed. When the immune system recognizes these proteins as foreign, it triggers an immune response, which produces antibodies that are specific to these proteins. By priming the immune system with these proteins, the body learns how to recognize and fight off the virus. This way, if you were to come into contact with the actual virus, your body will be significantly more likely to quickly fight it off [1]. 

A wealth of scientific studies support the safety of the flu vaccine. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) [2] as well as the World Health Organization (WHO)[3] recommend the annual flu vaccination to protect oneself and others against the flu. 

2. Only Seniors Need to Worry About the Flu

Althoughthose who need senior primary care and those with underlying health conditions are at a higher risk for flu-related health complications, it is a misconception to believe that only this group must worry about the fly. Influenza is a highly contagious virus that can affect just about any individual, no matter what age. Thousands of children and young adults are hospitalized due to flu-related complications each year, despite being young [4]. 

3. Natural Remedies Are More Effective Than the Flu Vaccine

Natural remedies, like taking elderberry and vitamin C, are often promoted as alternatives to the flu vaccine. While these remedies may offer some immune support, they cannot replace the comprehensive protection provided by the vaccine. Relying solely on natural remedies may leave you susceptible to the virus and its potential complications. This is not to say that you shouldn’t combine natural remedies into your vaccine protection plan. However, you mustn’t rely on these remedies as your sole form of protection. 

4. Hand Sanitizers Alone Can Protect You From the Flu 

There is a common assumption that hand sanitizers can effectively prevent the flu. While hand hygiene is a crucial element in limiting the spread of germs, the flu is primarily transmitted through respiratory droplets, making it very important to address other preventative measures as well. Maintaining good hand hygiene, along with getting vaccinated, practicing respiratory etiquette (covering coughs and sneezes), and avoiding close contact with sick individuals, all act as strategies to reduce the risk of flu transmission. 

5. The Flu is Just a Bad Cold 

It is a common misunderstanding to equate the flu with a severe cold. Although both illnesses share certain symptoms, the flu tends to be more severe and can lead to serious health concerns. These concerns may include pneumonia, hospitalization, and even death, particularly in high-risk groups, like the elderly, young children, and people with compromised immune systems. 

6. The Flu Isn’t a Serious Illness

Some individuals downplay the severity of the flu, considering it a minor inconvenience rather than a serious illness. However, the data paints a different picture. In the United States alone, the CDC estimates that flu-related hospitalizations have ranged from 140,000 to 810,000 annually since 2010, with deaths ranging from 12,000 to 61,000 [5]. Personal stories from individuals who have experienced severe flu cases attest to its seriousness. The flu can lead to a rapid decline in health, and seeking medical attention when symptoms arise is critical to prevent complications.

7. You Don’t Need a Flu Shot Every Year

Given that the flu changes over time, the idea of needing the flu shot annually may seem excessive to some people. However, this myth ignores the dynamic nature of the flu. Flu strains change from season to season, the vaccine is updated accordingly to match the circulating strains. The annual flu shot is made to provide the most effective protection against the strains for the specific season. Therefore, skipping yearly vaccinations could leave you vulnerable to new strains and decrease your overall protection against the flu. 

8. You Can Get the Flu From Cold Weather 

Cold weather may make the flu more likely to spread, but it cannot cause the flu. People tend to spend more time indoors when it is cold outside, meaning that they are in closer proximity and more likely to catch the flu from each other. However, being out in the cold without a jacket or with wet hair does not make you more susceptible to catching the flu, despite what many individuals believe. 

9. Antibiotics Can Cure the Flu

A common misconception is that antibiotics can effectively treat the flu. Antibiotics are designed to target bacterial infections, not viral infections like the flu. Influenza is caused by a virus, which means that antibiotics have no impact on the course of the illness [6]. Antiviral medications specifically designed to target the influenza virus may be prescribed by a healthcare professional in some cases. These antivirals can help reduce the severity and duration of symptoms if taken early in the course of the illness. It’s important to rely on accurate medical information and consult a healthcare provider for appropriate treatment options.

10. If You Have Had the Flu Once, You Are Immune Forever

Having the flu once does not mean you have lifelong immunity against all future strains of the virus. The flu is known for its ability to mutate and evolve, resulting in different strains circulating each year. While the previous infection might provide some level of immunity against that specific strain, it does not guarantee protection against new strains that may emerge. This is why annual flu vaccinations are recommended. The vaccine is formulated to target the most prevalent strains for that specific flu season, providing the best chance of immunity against the strains likely to circulate.

Overcoming Flu Myths in Senior Primary Care at Greater Good

At Greater Good, we understand the importance of prioritizing the health and well-being of our senior community members. With flu season upon us, it’s crucial to ensure that our seniors receive the best possible care. Our services for primary care for seniors include flu treatment for adults who are older. Let’s work together to keep our seniors healthy and protected. Take action now by scheduling an appointment with Greater Good. Find a primary care clinic location near you today.