With cooler weather and holiday get-togethers, comes a higher risk for flu and flu-like illnesses, or "flu imposters." And, each season I hear many of the same concerns or misconceptions from patients regarding flu. That's why I've compiled this list of "common flu myths" - to not only debunk them, but to help educate patients so we can put these myths to bed and have a healthy season.
- Myth 1: I don't need a shot. I haven't gotten the flu yet.
Truth: That's great you haven't had the flu, but each year the strain is different, so just because you haven't had the flu yet, doesn't mean you won't ever. There's also another really important reason to get a flu shot - and that's for the people around you - children, pregnant women, coworkers, elderly individuals or anyone with a compromised immune system. Getting a flu shot is a healthy choice for you, your family and the entire community. The more people who protect against the virus, the less flu in general - which is good for everyone.
- Myth 2: Flu season hasn't really hit yet, so I should wait until later in the year or when flu peaks to get one.
Truth: The best time to get a shot is before the season actually starts because it takes two weeks for the body's immune system to fully protect against the flu. Flu season can start as early as September but generally peaks in January or February and can last until May. It's a long season, which means that those who haven't received a flu shot are at increased risk for contracting the flu.
- Myth 3: If I get the shot, I will get the flu.
Truth: Flu vaccines given with a needle, which is the recommended method, are either made with inactive flu virus or no virus at all. This means you will not get the flu from getting a shot. There may be some minor side effects, however. The most common are soreness, redness, swelling where the shot was given, low-grade fever, headache or muscle aches. It's easy for some to confuse these symptoms with the flu, but they are side effects that go away rather quickly.
- Myth 4: The flu is spread through dirty surfaces.
Truth: While the flu virus can live for a time on surfaces or objects, it is most commonly spread through droplets in the air caused by sneezing, coughing or even talking. The droplets can land in the mouths or noses of nearby people, which is why it is so important to cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough.
- Myth 5: I got a shot last year so I should be covered.
Truth: The vaccine is different each year because the flu strain is different each year. It's important to get a flu shot each and every year to protect against the flu virus. It's good for you and it's good for those around you, limiting the opportunity to spread the virus further.
And remember, flu may seem like a bad cold, but it is often accompanied by extra symptoms like high fever, headache, body aches and feeling completely wiped out. Because it can cause more serious health complications, such as pneumonia, sinusitis or dehydration, it is advised to seek medical attention if you are experiencing any flu-like symptoms.
Aside from the flu shot, the best ways to beat the flu are to get plenty of sleep, eat well, disinfect shared surfaces and wash your hands often with soap and warm water.
Dr. Chad Masters, MD, MBA, is a regional medical director for MedExpress. He has been a contributor to the medical education field as an adjunct professor for Nova Southeastern University and assistant professor at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville.