Think You Know EVERYTHING About the Flu? Think Again
Kids are heading back to school, fall is almost here (along with everything pumpkin), and that can only mean one thing: It’s time to start talking about flu season again. The flu virus doesn’t usually start circulating until the end of the year, but it’s important to get vaccinated in the fall to give your body time to learn how to fight off the disease if exposed.
There is a lot of information at our fingertips, and not all of it is correct…and even when we find the right sources, it can be hard to sort through all that info to figure out what is correct for what our symptoms are and how to treat whatever it is we caught. If you have questions about the flu or any other illness you may be experiencing, make sure you are turning to trusted healthcare providers for your answers.
Is it true that the flu…?
There are more flu myths out there than we can easily count, and that was BEFORE medical misinformation began to spread on social media like wildfire. We’ve rounded up just a few popular ones here to debunk.
Is it true that I can get the flu from getting the flu shot? ¹
No! Flu vaccine given with a needle are inactive (killed) while nasal spray is live; the live vaccine has been weakened to the point it cannot cause an infection. After getting the vaccine, you may experience some flu-like symptoms. This is your body learning how to fight off the real disease by encountering the vaccine in your system. You can also still get the flu after getting vaccinated (but the vaccine often makes it less severe); this is especially true in the two weeks after getting your shot as your body takes some time to reach maximum immunity.
Is it true that I shouldn’t get the flu shot if I’m pregnant? ¹
No! Pregnant women actually have a higher risk of having complications if they contract the flu, meaning that getting vaccinated is even more important. On top of that, the vaccine can help protect the baby as well for several months after birth. Since babies cannot get a flu shot until they are 6 months, passing the antibodies from mother to baby is a great measure of protection.
If you are pregnant, you should only get the vaccine via a shot, not the nasal spray.
Is it true that I don’t need to get a flu shot every year? ²
No! With a few rare exceptions, the CDC recommends that everyone older than 6 months should get a flu shot every year. There are a couple of main reasons for this. First, the efficacy of the vaccine — how well the vaccine works to prevent the disease it’s meant to fight — decreases over time. This is also why we recommend you get your flu shot ideally between September and early November.
The second factor is that the flu virus changes over time (similar to how COVID-19 has changed over the last couple years). The vaccine is made based on which strains look like they will be the most widespread for that year, and the strain that was spreading last year may not be the popular one this year.
Not seeing your question? Have more questions from this? Come by and talk to our team – we’re always here to help you get the answers you need.
I don’t feel good – what do I have?
Anyone who has Googled symptoms knows that it can be hard to narrow in on what you actually have. We know that not every symptom is cancer, despite that seeming the case when we look online. It’s important to not only learn the symptoms of diseases that are in your area but also learn the timing and what is NOT a symptom so you can get better treatment.
Flu vs. COVID-19 ³
Symptoms of COVID-19 have changed over time to resemble the symptoms of influenza more closely. These shared symptoms include:
Fever or chills
Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
Runny or stuffy nose
Muscle pain or body aches
Change in or loss of taste or smell (more common with COVID-19 than flu)
Flu symptoms appear sooner after exposure on average than COVID-19 symptoms; someone infected with the flu usually starts having symptoms between 1 and 4 days after infection; COVID-19 symptoms, meanwhile, typically show up within 2 to 14 days after being exposed. Both viruses can also have asymptomatic cases, where people are infected but don’t get sick or show symptoms of the infection.
While both viruses have many shared possible complications (pneumonia, sepsis, heart attack, and more), there are some differences, too. The flu is more associated with secondary bacterial infections (getting an infection from something else when the immune system is weakened from the flu) than COVID-19; blood clots and multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C and MIS-A) are more common with COVID-19, and symptoms can linger much longer (now often called Long COVID) than flu symptoms do.
Both viruses have vaccines that work to protect you from infection or serious complications. There are also many tests available for both, so if you think you have one of these…get tested and get answers.
Flu vs. Stomach Flu ⁴
Despite sharing part of a name, the seasonal flu and the stomach flu have very little in common. The stomach flu (like the name suggests) affects the stomach. It is highly contagious and can be spread from person to person or by eating contaminated foods.
If you are experiencing diarrhea, stomach pain, and vomiting, there’s a good chance you’ve got the stomach flu. There isn’t any vaccine or treatment, but you can help relieve symptoms by drinking clear liquids, avoiding caffeine and alcohol, and staying away from dairy, fiber, grease, and spices.
If you have a sore throat, fever, muscle aches, or a cough, however, you may have influenza. The seasonal flu affects the respiratory system and DOES have a vaccine that can help prevent serious infection.
Flu vs. Cold vs. Allergy ⁵
Even before COVID-19, it was sometimes hard to tell if you had the flu or if you had a cold or if it was just allergies. They all affect the respiratory system and share many symptoms. Flu and cold generally have the most overlap, but flu symptoms tend to be more plentiful and more severe than cold symptoms. The symptoms are a sign of your body trying to fight off the infection, and they generally last as long as the infection does.
Allergies, meanwhile, are not because of an infection; instead, they are your immune system fighting off some external substances that you’ve been exposed to and your body thinks is dangerous to you. The symptoms are the immune system’s overreaction to the exposure, and they will last as long as the exposure does. This can be several weeks if the pollen count is high; it could be just hours, however, if it’s caused by a brief interaction with a neighbor’s dog.
Usual, high (100-102 °F), sometimes higher, especially in young children); lasts 3-4 days
Aches & Pains
Usual, often severe
Usual, can last up to 3 weeks
Usual, often at the beginning of the illness
Stuffy, Runny Nose
Common, can become severe
Mild to moderate
Rare, except for those with allergic asthma
Get plenty of rest.
Stay hydrated. (Drink plenty of fluids.)
Aspirin (ages 18 and up), acetaminophen, or ibuprofen for aches and pains
Get plenty of rest.
Aspirin (ages 18 and up), acetaminophen, or ibuprofen for aches, pains, and fever
Antiviral medicines (see your doctor)
Avoid allergens (things that you’re allergic to)
Wash your hands often.
Avoid close contact with anyone who has a cold.
Get the flu vaccine each year.
Wash your hands often.
Avoid close contact with anyone who has the flu.
Avoid allergens, such as pollen, house dust mites, mold, pet dander, cockroaches.
Sinus infection middle ear infection, asthma
Bronchitis, pneumonia; can be life-threatening
Sinus infection, middle ear infection, asthma
* Table via NIH News in Health: https://newsinhealth.nih.gov/2014/10/cold-flu-or-allergy
Because there is so much overlap in actual symptoms, it’s important to pay extra attention to the labels of any medicine you take. The active ingredients of many drugs overlap, so it is easy to get too much of one ingredient if you aren’t careful. There can also be interactions between different drugs used to treat the cold, flu, and allergies; if you are ever unsure of what to take or how much to take, talk to our pharmacy team!