6 myths about the flu debunked

Fall has arrived, and so has the annual flu season — a time when a runny nose may turn into a nasty bout of the influenza virus.

While flu is most serious for older Americans and individuals with certain chronic conditions, it can affect people of all ages. In some cases, it may lead to hospitalization, significant health complications and even death. Last season, an estimated 38 million people got the flu and there were 22,000 flu-related deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The agency says flu activity was lower than usual during the 2020-2021 season because of reduced travel, social distancing and masking during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Influenza activity often begins to increase in October in the U.S., with the peak months typically being December through February. However, the CDC warns this season could start early and be more severe, citing reduced population immunity as a factor, due to lack of flu virus activity since March 2020.

A man getting a flu shot from a nurse

The CDC says getting the flu vaccine early is the best way to help protect yourself and your loved ones from the virus. This year, the agency is recommending it for everyone 6 months and older, with few exceptions.

If you’re unsure whether the vaccine is right for you and your family, some important information may help cut through the confusion.

Here are a few common myths and the facts that help disprove them: 

Myth #1: Flu shots don’t really work.

Facts: The flu vaccine reduces the risk of the illness by between 40% and 60%, according to the CDC. The vaccine’s effectiveness depends on multiple factors, including the amount of time between vaccination and exposure to the disease, your age and health status. Additionally, the CDC says flu vaccinations benefit general public health, especially when the vaccine is well matched to viruses circulating in a given year.

Myth #2: I got vaccinated last year, so I should be good for this year, too.

Facts: The flu virus changes each year, so flu vaccines change as well. Plus, the body’s immune response to a flu vaccine declines over time, which means a yearly vaccination is the best option for protection, according to the CDC.

Myth #3: I exercise and eat healthy food, so I don’t need to get vaccinated.

Facts: It is true that being healthy may help you recover from illness more quickly, but it may not prevent you from getting or spreading the flu. Healthy people can be infected and spread the flu virus without showing symptoms.

Myth #4: I got the COVID-19 vaccine, so I can’t get the flu vaccine.

Facts: The viruses are different, and so are the vaccines used to prevent them. There are no interactions between the vaccines, and both are recommended by the CDC to help maintain optimal health. Additionally, if you want to save a trip, you can get the flu vaccine and the COVID-19 vaccine at the same time.

Myth #5: The flu vaccine causes strong side effects.

Facts: The side effects of the flu vaccine are generally mild, according to the CDC. Some people may have soreness, redness or swelling where the shot was given, a low-grade fever or minor aches, but these issues are typically short-lived. The CDC stresses, because of how the vaccines are produced, you cannot get influenza from the flu shot or the nasal spray vaccine.

Myth #6: Getting the flu is not that serious.

Facts: The CDC cautions that the flu illness can vary from mild to severe. When severe, it may result in hospitalization and even death. Reducing the risk of flu is especially important for these groups:

  • People who have certain medical conditions, such as asthma, diabetes or chronic lung disease
  • Pregnant women
  • Young children, especially those under 5 years old
  • People 65 and older

Even for people outside of these groups, flu symptoms can disrupt work, school or social life for several weeks or more.

Now is the time to get a flu vaccine, which is considered preventive, and, in most cases, covered through employer-sponsored, individual, Medicare and Medicaid health plans. Vaccines are available through primary care physicians and convenience care clinics.

The CDC emphasizes that getting your flu shot may be especially important this year with both flu and COVID-19 circulating. Getting a flu shot may help reduce the chance of hospitalization, which may help avoid further strain on capacity limits occurring amid the pandemic.

To find a flu shot location near you, visit uhc.com.