With the 2020 flu season colliding with the COVID-19 pandemic, rumors are swirling. Here are the facts to help you protect yourself against the flu.
With each flu season, common myths about the flu (and the flu shot) pop back up — “the flu shot gives you the flu,” for example. But with this year’s flu season overlapping the current COVID-19 pandemic, new myths and speculations are circulating.
Each year, myths around the flu can put people at risk and even keep them from protecting themselves. But this year, experts suggest taking extra precautions to ward off the flu — and COVID-19.
“The flu should never be taken lightly, but especially not this year with COVID-19 spreading in our communities,” says Dr. Alison Brodginski, infectious disease specialist and director of infectious diseases in Geisinger’s northeast region. “This flu season, it’s important to continue taking precautionary measures, like wearing a mask, washing your hands and practicing physical distancing, but it’s equally important to get your flu shot.”
With tons of information available at our fingertips, it can be hard to separate myths from facts. Dr. Brodginski helps us debunk the top 5 myths for this upcoming flu season.
5 myths about the 2020 flu season, debunked
Don’t let misinformation keep you from protecting yourself and your loved ones this flu season. Here are the myths and facts:
Myth #1: I don’t need a flu shot, because I’m already wearing a mask, washing my hands and practicing physical distancing.
While it’s true that the precautionary measures we’ve taken to slow the spread of COVID-19 can help lower our risk of getting the flu, they’re still not 100 percent foolproof.
“Because the flu and COVID-19 are transmitted in similar ways, practicing these measures can reduce your risk,” says Dr. Brodginski. “However, as restrictions are lifted and activities are moved indoors where transmission is more likely, your risk will increase.”
Getting a flu shot helps reduce the risk for everyone. After all, just one time of forgetting (or choosing not to) wear your mask is all it takes to put yourself and others at risk.
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. In fact, 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. “Mild side effects, like a headache or muscle aches, are normal and should subside within a day,” adds Dr. Brodginski.
This year, the flu shot will help keep you from getting the flu, reduce the severity of your symptoms if you do get the flu and help protect you from getting both viruses at the same time.
“It’s possible to get COVID-19 and the flu at the same time,” says Dr. Brodginski. “We aren’t sure yet how dangerous this may be, so getting a flu shot can save you from potentially dealing with both viruses at the same time and keep you out of the hospital.”
And because COVID-19 and the flu share similar symptoms, they may be difficult to tell apart. So, it’s especially important to get your flu shot this year.
The bottom line? Getting a flu shot is the number one way to prevent the flu, this year and every year. Learn how to get your no-cost flu shot at Geisinger.
Myth #3: 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 against it can protect you from getting it, reduce the severity of your illness if you do and prevent deadly complications for thousands of people.
“If you aren’t worried about yourself, get a flu shot to protect those around you, including those at high risk for flu-related complications, like babies, older adults and people with chronic illnesses or weakened immune systems,” Dr. Brodginski.
Myth #4: 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. Brodginski. “These are especially helpful for those who are at a higher risk for developing serious complications from the flu.”
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 several days of missed work or school. So why not reduce your chances by getting a flu shot?
Myth #5: It’s too risky to go to the doctor’s office during COVID-19
You may be concerned about visiting a hospital or healthcare facility to get a flu shot right now. However, the benefits of getting your flu shot far outweigh the low risk of visiting your doctor’s office where masking and physical distancing measures are being taken.
“Because healthcare professionals at hospitals and healthcare clinics are consistently taking extra safety precautions during this time, your risk of being exposed to COVID-19 is considerably lower than visiting places like supermarkets or other more crowded locations,” adds Dr. Brodginski.
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 include:
- Wearing a face mask and practicing physical distancing when in public places
- Washing your hands often with warm, soapy water for 20 seconds
- Using hand sanitizer when handwashing isn’t an option
- Not touching your eyes, nose and mouth (until you’ve washed your hands)
- Avoiding 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. Brodginski. “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’ve made it easy to get your flu shot this year, including options like our new drive-thru flu shot clinics. Learn all the ways you can get a no-cost flu shot at Geisinger.