This year’s flu season is expected to claim more than 50,000 lives, and more than 60 children have already succumbed. Part of the reason why the 2017-2018 flu season is spiraling out of control is that this year’s flu vaccine is less effective, due to the prevalence of the evasive H3N2 strain. But several other misconceptions — including the pervasive belief that flu shots aren’t worth getting — likely made things worse. Here are a few other flu myths that put everyone in danger:
Myth #1: You Can Protect Yourself From the Flu With a Healthy Lifestyle
Washing your hands and eating right are excellent first-line defenses against the flu, but you cannot stop an airborne virus by maintaining a well-oiled immune system, alone. You and your family need better protection than maintaining healthy habits — especially since some studies suggest that washing your hands won’t even somewhat protect you from the flu.
Myth #2: If You Stay Away From Everyone, You Won’t Get Them Sick
Quarantining yourself may make you feel like a hero (or a martyr), but it’s possible to pass on the virus before symptoms show up, so hiding away once you’re sick isn’t a foolproof strategy. And although it’s certainly a good idea to stay away from others once you’re symptomatic, that’s cold comfort for parents who have to deal with the flu you gave their kids when you were feeling fine.
Myth #3: If You Get Sick, You Can Just Take Medicine
Since the flu is a viral infection, antibiotics aren’t going to do anything besides kill the good bacteria in your gut. And although Tamiflu is marketed as a treatment option for shortening flu duration and quelling its symptoms, the drug is not effective for everyone, isn’t a cure, and tends to fly off shelves early in flu season. Because of its high cost, not to mention tenuous supply and efficacy, many doctors don’t consider it a solution to the flu. (You may not want to, either).
Myth #4: Flu Shots Can Give You The Flu
It is not possible to catch the flu from a vaccine. Most flu vaccines contain inactivated or “dead” flu virus, and the nasal spray contains live virus that is so attenuated that it cannot cause infection. It is true that some people get the flu shortly after receiving vaccines, but that’s just because they were already sick and asymptomatic when they sat for their shots. It is also possible that flu-like symptoms — headache, nausea, and even low-grade fever — can be caused by the vaccine kicking antibody production into overdrive. But it sure beats actually getting the flu.
Myth #5: Pregnant Women and Children Should Not Get Flu Shots
Your whole family needs the vaccine, unless a doctor indicates otherwise. The CDC recommends all pregnant women receive the flu vaccine, barring specific complications, and studies suggest flu shots actually reduce the risk of miscarriages and stillbirths. Meanwhile, there’s evidence that the vaccine is up to 83 percent effective in reducing risk for small children.
Myth #6: Flu Shots Cause Narcolepsy, Alzheimer’s, Etc.
It’s true that one European swine flu vaccine was linked to narcolepsy in 2009, but this never applied to the seasonal flu vaccine in the U.S. There’s also absolutely no scientifically-backed relationship between flu vaccines and Alzheimer’s — a fallacy that’s especially dangerous for elderly adults, who are at an increased risk of flu-related complications. Other incidents, for instance one widely-reported case of a woman who claimed she could only walk backward after getting her flu shot, was proven to be purely psychological. Just for the record, vaccines have never been shown to cause mental health problems including (here comes the hate mail) autism.
Myth #7: It’s Too Late In The Flu Season To Get Vaccinated
It’s true that flu season peters out February and that it can take up to two weeks for the vaccine’s immunity to kick it, but it’s never too late to get your shots. “We want to continue to emphasize that there’s still a lot of flu activity to come, people that haven’t been vaccinated should still get the vaccine,” Lynnette Brammer, head of the CDC’s Domestic Flu Surveillance team, told CNN. “We may be getting close to the peak of this wave, it’s not unusual to have a second wave of influenza B come through.” As gnarly as that wave might be, no one should risk trying to ride it.
Myth #8: The Flu Is a Benign Illness
The flu kills more people in the U.S. each year than the Ebola virus has killed in the history of the world. Last year 34 million Americans got the flu, 710,000 were hospitalized and about 56,000 died — 148 of them infants and children. And although children and elderly individuals are at the highest risk, perfectly healthy adults can die from the flu. It’s not some winter rite of passage, and it certainly isn’t a benign illness. The best way you can protect yourself is by getting a flu shot today. Here’s a CDC tool that can help you find a flu clinic in your neighborhood.