Five myths about the flu — and the real facts

Fall is here, and so is the annual flu season — a time when a runny nose may turn into a nasty bout of the influenza virus with fever, cough and aches.

The flu, which is highly contagious, can affect people of all ages. While not typically fatal, it can be deadly to young children and older people whose immune systems can be compromised. In some cases, it may lead to hospitalization, significant health complications and even death.

Influenza activity typically begins to increase in October, with the peak occurring in December through February. This year’s season could start early and be more severe, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns.

The CDC says getting the flu vaccine early is the best way to help protect yourself and your loved ones from the virus. The agency is recommending the vaccine for everyone 6 months and older, with few exceptions.

If you are unsure a flu vaccine is right for you, you are not alone. There can be a lot of confusion out there surrounding vaccines. To help, Dr. Mayrene Hernandez, UnitedHealthcare senior chief medical office in Florida, fact checks five common flu vaccine myths.

Myth #1: You can get the flu from the flu vaccine.
Facts: The vaccines can’t cause flu illness. They are made with either inactive viruses or only a single protein from the flu virus. In fact, doctors strongly recommend getting the flu vaccine because it is the single best way to help protect yourself from the flu. The flu vaccine is safe, it doesn’t cause serious side effects and may even help reduce the seriousness of your symptoms, if you do get the flu.

Myth #2: The flu vaccine isn’t safe for older adults.
Facts: The flu vaccine is safe, simple and a smart choice for all ages, starting at 6 months. Older adults, who are at higher risk for serious flu complications that could result in a hospital stay, are especially encouraged to get the vaccine.

Myth #3: The flu vaccine causes strong side effects.
Facts: The side effects of the flu vaccine are generally mild, according to the CDC. Some people may have soreness, redness or swelling where the shot was given, a low-grade fever or minor aches, but these issues are typically short-lived. The CDC stresses, because of how the vaccines are produced, you cannot get influenza from the flu shot or the nasal spray vaccine.

Myth #4: I got a flu vaccine last year, so I’m fine for this year.
Facts: The flu virus changes each year, so flu vaccines change as well. Plus, the body’s immune response to a flu vaccine declines over time, which means a yearly vaccination is the best option for protection, according to the CDC.

Myth #5: I got the COVID-19 vaccine and so I can’t get the flu vaccine.
Facts: The viruses are different, and so are the vaccines used to prevent them. There are no interactions between the vaccines, and both are recommended by the CDC to help maintain optimal health. Additionally, if you want to save a trip, you can get the flu vaccine and the COVID-19 vaccine at the same time.

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