Debunking the Myths

Each year an estimated 15-61 million people in the U.S. contract the flu.1 People often misunderstand and underestimate the serious and even deadly complications that can arise as a result. Myths surrounding the flu may contribute to the fact that, in the United States, more than 226,000 people are hospitalized  for flu related complications and an average of 36,000 people die annually.2

MYTH: The flu vaccine is only for people who are at high risk
Anyone exposed to the flu virus can get the flu. The virus is contagious and can spread easily among people. High-risk groups are typically defined as the elderly, young children and people with chronic illnesses. All people who are in close contact with those that are considered "high risk" are advised to get a flu vaccination to protect themselves and others.3

MYTH: I got vaccinated last year, so I don't need to get vaccinated this year
The dominant strains of the flu virus change every year and the formulation of the flu vaccine is adjusted annually to include the most current circulating flu strains. It is important to get vaccinated every year to help protect yourself against the flu.4

MYTH: The flu is just a bad cold
A cold and the flu are both considered respiratory illnesses but they are caused by different viruses and the flu involves more of the body than just the respiratory system. In general, the flu is worse than a cold and symptoms such as fever, body aches, extreme tiredness and dry cough are more common and intense. People with colds are more likely to have a runny or stuffy nose. Colds generally do not result in serious health problems such as pneumonia, bacterial infections, or hospitalization. No vaccine can prevent a cold, but the flu vaccine can help prevent the flu.5

MYTH: You can get the flu from the injected vaccine
The injected shot is composed of an inactivated or killed virus that cannot cause disease. You cannot get the flu by receiving a flu shot.6

MYTH: The flu cannot cause serious health complications or death
In fact, in the United States an average of 36,000 people die annually from flu and flu-related complications.7 Flu and pneumonia together are the 8th leading cause of death in the United States.8 Complications resulting from the flu can include bacterial pneumonia, ear infections, sinus infections, dehydration, and worsening of chronic medical conditions, such as congestive heart failure, asthma, or diabetes.9

MYTH: There is no way for doctors to diagnose flu for sure
A physician may diagnose flu based on symptoms and physical exam. In addition, laboratory tests can confirm a flu diagnosis. The virus may be cultured from swabs of your deep nasal passages or throat, or blood tests may confirm a rise in your antibody to the virus, indicating a recent infection.10

MYTH: The flu cannot be passed from person-to-person
While many think the cold weather or going out with wet hair may contribute to the flu, it can only be transmitted by an infected person, which is why it is vital for those who are in close contact with people who are considered high risk to get vaccinated each year.11

MYTH: Most people catch the flu by December
According to Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), the flu season can begin as early as October and can extend through March, and often peaks as late as January or February. Getting vaccinated before the end of the calendar year is the best way to prevent the flu. However, a flu vaccine can still be effective if administered later since the flu shot only requires two weeks to take effect and flu activity may continue in to March.12

MYTH: Stomach flu is a certain type of flu
People often use the term "stomach flu" to describe illnesses with nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. Many different viruses, bacteria, or even parasites can cause these symptoms. While vomiting, diarrhea, and being nauseous or "sick to your stomach" can sometimes be related to the flu — particularly in children — these problems are rarely the main symptoms of influenza. The flu is a respiratory infection with symptoms that can affect the entire body and not a stomach or intestinal illness.13

 

Sources


1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Disease and Conditions. Seasonal Flu: Key Facts About Seasonal Influenza (Flu). March 12, 2009. Available at http://www.cdc.gov/flu/keyfacts.htm. Accessed on August 20, 2009.

2 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Prevention and Control of Influenza: Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), 2009. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. July 31, 2009; 58(RR-08).

3 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Disease and Conditions. Seasonal Flu: Key Facts About Seasonal Flu Vaccine. December 10, 2008. Available at http://www.cdc.gov/flu/protect/keyfacts.htm. Accessed on August 11, 2009.

4 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Disease and Conditions. Seasonal Flu: Season Flu Vaccine. September 8, 2008. Available at http://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/qa/fluvaccine.htm. Accessed on August 11, 2009.

5 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Disease and Conditions. Seasonal Flu: Cold Versus Flu. September 18, 2006. Available at http://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/qa/coldflu.htm. Accessed on August 11, 2009.

6 National Foundation for Infectious Disease. Influenza for Consumers: Myths. 2006. Available at http://www.nfid.org/influenza/consumers_myths.html. Accessed on August 11, 2009. 

7 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Prevention and Control of Influenza: Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), 2009. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. July 31, 2009; 58(RR-08). 

8 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. National Center for Health Statistics. National Vital Statistics Report. Deaths: Final Data for 2006. April 17, 2009. Vol 57 No 14.

9 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Disease and Conditions. Seasonal Flu: Key Facts About Seasonal Influenza (Flu). March 12, 2009. Available at http://www.cdc.gov/flu/keyfacts.htm. Accessed on August 20, 2009.

10 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Disease and Conditions. Seasonal Flu: Role of Laboratory Diagnosis of Influenza. January 22, 2009. Available at http://www.cdc.gov/flu/professionals/diagnosis/labrole.htm. Accessed on August 20, 2009.

11 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Disease and Conditions. Seasonal Flu: How Flu Spreads. December 6, 2007. Available at http://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/disease/spread.htm. Accessed on August 11, 2009.

12 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Prevention and Control of Influenza: Recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), 2009. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. July 31, 2009; 58(RR-08).

13 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Disease and Conditions. Seasonal Flu: Misconceptions about Influenza and Influenza Vaccine. July 16, 2008. Available at http://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/qa/misconceptions.htm. Accessed on August 11, 2009.