October 20, 2020

UW Health experts bust seven flu myths

Madison, Wis. — As the temperatures continue to fall and COVID-19 cases rise, it is time to get an annual influenza vaccine to help avoid a "twindemic."

UW Health experts want the community to have the facts, so today we are busting seven persistent myths about influenza.

Myth 1: The influenza vaccine (or flu shot) will protect you from the "stomach flu." Stomach flu (gastroenteritis) is when stomach and intestines are inflamed and irritated causing vomiting and diarrhea. Influenza is a virus that causes respiratory symptoms like fever, cough, congestion, fatigue and when serious can lead to pneumonia.

Myth 2: The flu vaccine can give you the flu. The flu shot contains "inactive" virus that cannot cause an infection. If you were to contract influenza shortly after receiving the vaccine, it is because it takes up to two weeks for the vaccine to become effective in the body.

Myth 3: The flu is more dangerous than COVID-19. Both are serious viruses, with similar symptoms and both can be fatal. However, it is a mistake to think COVID-19 is just like a flu. COVID-19 appears to be more contagious than the flu. Severe illnesses such as lung injury may be more frequent with COVID-19. The mortality rate also appears to be higher with COVID-19.

Myth 4: You don't need to get the flu vaccine every year. The vaccine becomes less effective over time and since the strains of influenza that circulate change over time, the vaccine formula changes each year. It is important to get a flu vaccine every year.

Myth 5: Flu vaccines contain dangerous or harmful ingredients. Some people are nervous about certain ingredients used in some vaccines. However, all reputable research shows that these substances are not harmful in the tiny amounts contained in flu vaccines.

Myth 6: If you don't get a flu shot by November, it's too late. It is almost never too late to get a flu shot. The flu season can last through April so getting a flu shot "late" is always better than skipping it. If you haven't gotten one yet, make an appointment today.

Myth 7: Healthy people don't need the flu vaccine. Everyone 6 months and older should get vaccinated for the flu. Influenza is a contagious disease that can lead to serious illness, pneumonia and even hospitalization for otherwise healthy people. Plus, healthy people can spread the virus to those who are vulnerable to serious influenza infections, including newborn babies, senior citizens and those with weakened immune systems.