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4 min read

Flu and the flu vaccine: 9 myths

Medical reviewer: Healthily's medical team
Last reviewed: 27/11/2020
Medically reviewed

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There are many myths surrounding flu (influenza) and the flu vaccine. Here are 9 common flu myths and the truth behind them.

Flu is just like having a heavy cold

A bad bout of flu is much worse than a heavy cold. Flu symptoms come on suddenly and sometimes severely. They include fever, chills, headaches and aching muscles, as well as a cough and sore throat.

You're likely to spend two or three days in bed if you get the flu. If you develop complications, you could become seriously ill and have to go to hospital.

The flu vaccine gives you flu

No, it doesn't. The flu vaccine that’s given to adults contains inactivated flu viruses, so it can't give you flu.

Your arm may feel a bit sore where you were injected, and some people get a slight temperature and aching muscles for a couple of days afterwards. Other reactions are very rare.

Children may be given a nasal spray vaccine instead of an injection. This contains live but weakened flu viruses that will not give your child flu.

Flu can be treated with antibiotics

No, it can't. Flu is caused by influenza viruses and antibiotics only work against bacteria. A doctor may give you antiviral medicines to treat your flu.

Antivirals don’t cure flu, but they can make you less infectious to others and reduce the length of time you may be ill.

To be effective, antivirals have to be given within a couple of days of your symptoms appearing. You may get a bacterial infection from having flu, in which case you may be given antibiotics.

Once you've had the flu vaccine, you're protected for life

No, you aren't. The viruses that cause flu can change every year, so new vaccines are made to match them.

This means you need to have a new jab every year to make sure you’re protected each flu season.

I'm pregnant, so I shouldn't have the flu jab because it will affect my baby

You should have the vaccine no matter what stage of pregnancy you're in. If you're pregnant, you could get very ill if you get the flu, which could also be bad for your baby.

Having the jab can also protect your baby against the flu after they're born and during the early months of life.

The flu jab won't protect me against swine flu

Yes, it will. Each year’s flu jab provides protection against multiple flu viruses, including the H1N1 swine flu virus. This virus has been circulating every winter since it caused a global flu outbreak in 2009.

I've had the flu already this autumn, so I don't need the vaccination this year

As flu is caused by several viruses, the immunity you naturally developed will only protect you against one of them. You could go on to catch another strain, so it's recommended you have the vaccine even if you've recently had flu.

Also, what you thought was the flu could have been something else.

If you’re at extra risk from the flu, you should get the jab every year. Being 65 or older, pregnant or having certain health conditions can make the flu more dangerous.

If I missed having the flu jab in October, it's too late to have it later in the year

No, it's not too late. It's better to have the flu vaccine as soon as it becomes available, usually in October, but it's always worth getting vaccinated after this, even if there have already been outbreaks of flu.

Vitamin C can prevent flu

No, it can't. Many people think that taking daily vitamin C supplements will stop them getting the flu, but there's no evidence to prove this.

Key points

  • the flu vaccine is a safe and effective way to prevent flu
  • you need to get a new flu vaccine every year to be protected
  • if you miss getting the jab in October, it’s still worth getting it later in the year

References

  1. Recommended composition of influenza virus vaccines for use in the 2020 - 2021 northern hemisphere influenza season. World Health Organisation [Internet] who.int 2020 [cited 14 September 2020]. Available here.
  2. The national flu immunisation programme 2020 to 2021. Public Health England [Internet] gov.uk 2020 [cited 14 September 2020]. Available here.
  3. Flu shot: Your best bet for avoiding influenza. Mayo Clinic [Internet]. mayoclinic.org. [cited 14 September 2020].
  4. Swine flu. NHS [Internet]. Nhs.uk. [cited 14 September 2020]. Available here.
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