Flu myths you shouldn’t fall for this season

Being mindful entails seeking trusted sources and facts behind common assumptions and practices. This is especially important when it comes to medical issues. Read on to see if you have all your flu facts straight.

There are many myths around the flu and its vaccine. Here are four of the most common ones, and the truth behind them.

Myth #1: Getting the flu vaccine gives you flu

No, it doesn't. The injected flu vaccine that is given to adults contains killed (inactivated) flu viruses, so it cannot give you the flu. The inactivated viruses simply enable your body to develop the antibodies needed to ward off influenza. Your arm may feel a bit sore where you were injected, and a few people get a slight temperature and aching muscles for a couple of days afterwards, but other reactions are very rare.

It’s possible, though, that you catch the flu – or appear to – even if you get a flu shot. Dr Noluthando Nematswerani, Head of the Centre for Clinical Excellence at Discovery Health, offers three possible explanations:

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It takes two weeks for your body to develop antibodies after you’ve had a flu shot. If you're exposed to a flu virus shortly before or during this window period, you could still catch the flu. However, you won’t suffer for as long or as badly as you would if you didn’t have a flu shot.

  • You happen to catch the flu during the two-week window period

In some years, the influenza viruses used for the vaccine don't completely match the viruses circulating during the flu season. This could make your flu shot less effective, but it will still offer some protection.

  • The season’s flu virus doesn’t match the vaccine

Many other illnesses (like the common cold) produce symptoms that appear similar to the flu illness. So you may think you have the flu when you actually don't.

  • You’re actually suffering from other illnesses

Many other illnesses (like the common cold) produce symptoms that appear similar to the flu illness. So you may think you have the flu when you actually don't.

Myth #2: You’re protected because you got a flu shot last year, or once you've had a flu vaccine, you're protected for life

No, you aren't. The body’s immunity lessens over time, even within the year of the shot, and flu viruses are constantly adapting and changing. This means that last year's vaccine will not be effective against this year’s flu.

New flu vaccines are released every year to try keep up with these changes and you need a vaccination each year that matches the new viruses. The vaccine usually provides protection for the duration of the flu season that year.

Myth #3: You’re pregnant, so you shouldn't have the flu vaccine because it may hurt your baby

No, it won’t. Getting a flu shot will help your baby. You should get the flu vaccine no matter what stage of pregnancy you are in. If you're pregnant and catch the flu, you could get even more ill than usual, which could be very unhealthy for your baby. Having the flu vaccine can also protect your baby against the flu after they're born, and during the early months of their life.

“Because babies haven’t had the time and exposure to develop strong immune systems, they are very prone to illness, so it’s important that moms equip them with all the protection they can get,” says Dr Deepak Patel, Principal Clinical Specialist at Discovery Vitality. “Moms are able to do this because their bodies develop the necessary flu antibodies, which are then shared with their babies through umbilical fluids and, after birth, through breast milk.”

Myth #4: Vitamin C can keep you from catching the flu

No, it can't. Many people think that taking daily vitamin C supplements will keep them from getting the flu, but there is no evidence to conclusively prove this. “Taking any single vitamin supplement may not do much good because the balance between vitamins and minerals plays a big role in how well they work,” says Terry Harris, a dietitian at Discovery Vitality.

“Vitamin C – not in large, isolated doses just once you feel sick, but absorbed daily as part of a healthy balanced diet – works together with other nutrients to strengthen your immune system. In this way, it contributes to making your body more resistant to illnesses like the flu.

Dr Nematswerani concludes, “The most effective way to give your body extra power to fight off the flu or to protect yourself against its severe complications is to get a flu vaccine before the flu season starts.” Flu vaccines are safe and proven to protect, so head to your nearest clinic, GP or pharmacy in time to protect yourself and your family this season.

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