Myths about the flu are everywhere, making it difficult to tell the difference between what's fact and what's fiction. UC Irvine Health internal medicine physician Dr. Emilie Chow busts 10 of the most common myths out there.
1. It’s too late to get vaccinated
Even in the middle of winter, it's not too late to be vaccinated for influenza.
Chow advises: “If you have not had the flu yet, the vaccine still may provide protection to prevent catching it later in winter or early spring.”
Keep in mind, too, that strains may change every year, which is why the Centers for Disease Control recommends getting a shot annually.
2. The vaccine can make you sick
The vaccine cannot give you the flu, Chow says.
"Don't be afraid of the vaccine," she says. "It can prevent the flu, which can make people very sick."
3. You can always tell when it's the flu
Not necessarily. “Flu is a continuum,” Chow says of the respiratory viruses. “Not everyone has the same symptoms.”
In a single family, she says, one person can have a sore throat, another can have a runny nose, while still another is achy and has the chills — yet, it can all be influenza.
“Some people are really affected by the flu, while some people believe they have a cold when it’s really the flu.”
4. If you're healthy, you don't need to be vaccinated
That isn't true, cautions Chow.
Although some people are at greater risk of getting sick — including the elderly, pregnant women and those with medical conditions — anyone can get sick, including healthy, active individuals.
5. Feed a cold, starve a fever
“There is no recommended diet for the cold or flu,” says Chow. “The main thing is to not get dehydrated, so you should drink lots of fluids.”
Being sick may weaken your appetite, but it’s still important to get nourishment to help you recover.
6. Antibiotics can help you fight
Antibiotics work on bacterial infections, not on viruses, Chow says. Antibiotic resistance is caused by overuse ›
Influenza, however, can lead to pneumonia and ear infections, which can be treated with antibiotics.
7. All you need to do to prevent illness is get the vaccine
The vaccine is just one weapon on the front lines.
“You still need to wash your hands, and you need to stay home from work or school when you’re feeling really sick,” Chow says.
You should also get plenty of sleep, stay hydrated, exercise and manage your stress to help keep your immune system strong.
8. You can get sick from going out in cold weather with wet hair, without a coat or by sitting by a drafty window
“Catching the flu is not related to being wet or being exposed to cold weather,” says Chow.
Colds and influenza are caused by viruses, period.
9. Pregnant women and children can’t have the vaccine
“The vaccine is recommended for most everyone six months or older,” Chow says.
She notes that there are some rare exceptions — concerning people with certain allergies or medical conditions — but the vaccine is safe for pregnant women and children. Kids, roll up your sleeves for the vaccine ›
10. Antiviral drugs make vaccination unnecessary
“The shot promotes your natural immune response, so it is absolutely necessary.”
Antiviral drugs prevent the virus from spreading and replicating, but they are considered a second line of defense. They work best when given within the first day or two of symptoms appearing, but they are still recommended after that time for high-risk patients and those sick enough to be hospitalized.