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Know the truth behind the myths — so you can protect your health.

With each flu season, misconceptions about the flu (and the flu shot) pop back up — “the flu is just a bad cold,” for example.

These myths may have even made you question if you or your loved ones really need a flu shot. But with COVID-19, flu and other respiratory illnesses circulating, like RSV, it’s just not worth the risk.

“Cases of the flu were low last year, likely due to measures taken to slow the spread of COVID-19,” explains Dr. Stanley Martin, infectious diseases specialist at Geisinger. “But this year, with schools and workplaces reopening and less people sticking to precautions, we could see a spike in flu cases. That’s why it’s so important to protect yourself by getting the flu shot.”

5 myths about the flu, debunked

With so much information at our fingertips, it can be hard to separate myths from facts. Dr. Martin helps us debunk the top myths about the flu and the flu shot

Myth #1: I don’t need a flu shot, because I’m still wearing a mask, washing my hands and keeping my distance from others.

While it’s true that the things you do to protect against COVID-19 help lower your risk of getting the flu, they’re still not 100% foolproof.

“Because the flu and COVID-19 are transmitted in similar ways, practicing these measures can reduce your risk,” says Dr. Martin. “However, with fewer people wearing masks — and activities moving indoors where transmission is more likely — your risk increases.”

Getting a flu shot helps reduce the risk for everyone. “Getting a flu shot puts you in better shape to the fight off the flu and it helps protect those around you, too,"

Dr. Martin adds. “It just takes respiratory droplets from one cough or sneeze to get infected or infect someone else.”

Myth #2: The flu shot will give me the flu.

The flu vaccine is made from a dead virus that can’t make you sick. Instead, it builds your immunity to help you stay healthy.

If you feel under the weather after getting the flu shot, it’s because it activates your immune system — not because it gave you the flu. “Mild side effects, like a headache or muscle aches, are normal and should subside within a day,” says Dr. Martin.

The bottom line? Getting a flu shot is the No. 1 way to prevent the flu — this year and every year.

(H3) Myth #3: It’s not safe to get the COVID and flu vaccines at the same time.The best way to protect yourself from the flu and COVID is by getting vaccinated against each one. But if you just got your COVID vaccine or booster dose, is it safe to get your flu shot right away?

Yes.

“Early on, the CDC recommended that other vaccines shouldn’t be given within a two-week window before or after getting vaccinated against COVID vaccine,” explains Dr. Martin. “But now we know it’s safe to give the COVID and flu vaccines at the same time.”

And yes, it’s possible to catch COVID-19 and the flu at the same time. So, getting vaccinated against both can save you from dealing with both viruses at the same time and keep you out of the hospital.

(H3) Myth #4: I’m healthy, so I don’t need the flu shot.

The flu doesn’t discriminate — even strong, healthy people can get the flu. Getting vaccinated protects you from catching it, but if you do get the flu, it also reduces the severity of your illness. And that means preventing deadly complications for thousands of people.“Everyone 6 months of age and older should get a flu shot annually,” says Dr. Martin. “There are very few exceptions to this guidance.”

So, who shouldn’t get the flu shot? Flu shots are appropriate for most people except:

• Children younger than 6 months
• People with severe, life-threatening allergies to any ingredient in a flu vaccine (the flu shot is safe for most people with egg allergies — there are even egg-free vaccines)
• People who have had a severe allergic reaction to a flu shot in the past
“Another common myth is that the flu shot isn’t safe for pregnant women,” says Dr. Martin. “Not only is it safe, but it’s highly recommended that women get a flu shot while pregnant because they’re at a higher risk of severe illness from the flu.”

Myth #5: If I get the flu, antibiotics will cure it.

Antibiotics are only effective against bacteria — and the flu is a virus.

No medication can completely stop or prevent the flu. However, doctors can prescribe antiviral medications to lessen the symptoms.

“Prescription antiviral medications, such as Tamiflu, work best if taken within the first 48 hours of flu symptoms,” says Dr. Martin. “These are especially helpful for those who are at a higher risk for developing serious complications from the flu.”

But for most people, the best (and most recommended) way to recover from the flu is by resting, drinking plenty of fluids and treating the symptoms. And if you’re sick, be sure to stay home to prevent getting others sick.

Flu symptoms include fever, chills, headache, sore throat, muscle aches and runny nose, which can result in missing work or school. So why not lower your chances of feeling rotten by getting a flu shot?

Get your flu shot this season

Getting a flu shot is one of the most effective ways to ward off the flu. Other ways to prevent the flu:

• Wear a face mask and keep your distance from others in public places
• Wash your hands often with warm, soapy water for 20 seconds
• Use hand sanitizer when handwashing isn’t an option
• Don’t touch your eyes, nose and mouth (until you’ve washed your hands)
• Avoid crowds and close contact with those who are sick

Flu season begins in the fall and ends in the spring, peaking between December and February. Experts highly recommend getting your flu shot by the end of October, but it’s never too late to get a flu shot.

“The flu shot can give you a fighting chance, no matter how late in the season you get it,” says Dr. Martin. “But, it’s important to remember that it takes approximately two weeks to reach full effectiveness, so it is still possible to get sick in that timeframe.”

Need a flu shot?

We make it easy to get your flu shot. Learn how to get your free flu shot at Geisinger.

Next steps:

Get your flu shot
Is it a cold, flu or COVID? Learn the difference.
Have the flu? Here’s what to do.