Myths vs. facts about flu season

Abby Stassen

Learning about flu myths vs. facts can help keep you healthy this winter.

The holidays might be drawing to a close, but another season is just around the corner: flu season. Aches and pains, chills, and a fever aren't on anyone's wish list, but you're at the highest risk for catching the flu between December and February.

You're not completely powerless against influenza. Knowledge is power, and knowing flu myths from facts is the first step to a healthy winter. Here are some debunked flu season myths, coupled with preventative options and treatments that will get you back on your feet.

Myth: "The flu" and "stomach flu" are the same illness.

Fact: The flu isn't the least bit interested in your stomach.

The "flu" you talk about during the winter is short for "influenza." It's caused by viruses that infect your mouth, nose, throat, and lungs.

If you come down with influenza, you'll notice extreme fatigue, congestion, aches and pains, and even a nasty fever, whereas the "stomach flu" causes nausea, cramps, and vomiting.

Myth: Antibiotics can cure your flu.

Fact: They don't work against the flu.

Antibiotics fight bacterial infections, but influenza is a virus.You'll likely need to wait out your flu symptoms, but there are steps you can take to make yourself more comfortable.

Taking an over-the-counter pain medication like ibuprofen or acetaminophen can reduce a fever and soothe your aches and pains.

Myth: Young, healthy people don't need to worry about the flu.

Fact: Anyone can contract the flu, and it can be dangerous--even for healthy young adults.

Influenza doesn't discriminate. People from all ages and walks of life become sick if they're around an infected person. Once you've contracted the flu, you're at risk for complications like pneumonia--which is why it's so important to get a flu shot.

Myth: Flu shots can give you the flu.

Fact:  You may experience some side effects, but the flu shot will not give you influenza.

Some people have mild reactions, like redness or soreness on their arm after they've received the shot. It's possible to notice a headache or low-grade fever afterward, but that's a reaction to the shot itself--you're not experiencing influenza.

Nasal flu vaccines have a higher chance of side effects (like coughing, runny nose, or muscle aches), but they are typically mild and short-lived. If you have a reaction to either type of vaccine, it's far less debilitating than the actual flu.

Myth: I got the flu despite receiving the shot, so flu shots don't work.

Fact: You became sick for other reasons.

If you feel sick after your flu shot, it's probably because you came into contact with an infected person a few days before or right after receiving your shot--the vaccine didn't have time to take effect.

You may have also contracted another illness (like a nasty cold) that mimics flu symptoms, or you were exposed to a less virulent flu strain that wasn't included in this year's vaccine. (Flu shots are redesigned every year to protect against the most virulent or common strains for that particular season, so they won't cover every single strain out there.)

Myth: Vitamin C prevents or shortens colds and flus.

Fact: Put those supplements back on the drugstore shelf: there's no scientific evidence to support this.

You've probably had a well-meaning friend suggest that you load up on vitamin C supplements or orange juice if you're coming down with a cold or the flu, but there's no evidence that megadoses of vitamin C help prevent or shorten any illnesses.

The best way to avoid the flu virus is by keeping your hands clean, staying hydrated, and avoiding contact with infected people. If you know you've come into contact with the virus before your flu shot, your doctor may prescribe an antiviral drug (like Tamiflu or Relenza) to help protect your immune system.

Myth: Exposure to cold temperatures or going outside with wet hair can cause the flu.

Fact: You can only get the flu if you contract the influenza virus.

It's easy to assume that cold temperatures contribute to the flu when peak flu season occurs during the winter months, but it's simply not true. The influenza virus causes the flu--it  has nothing to do with leaving the house with wet hair.

Myth: You can't spread the flu if you're symptom-free.

Fact: You won't experience symptoms until you've had the virus for a few days, and you can infect others during that time.

Flu symptoms begin 1 to 4 days after the virus enters the body, so you might have the flu without knowing it, then spread it through a cough, sneeze, or just talking closely with someone.

To protect yourself, you'll want to wash your hands frequently (or use hand sanitizer if you're on the go), cover your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze, and avoid sharing clothing like hats and scarves. If someone you know has the flu, stay away until they're back to feeling 100%.


Abby Stassenis a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.


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