Common flu myths

Caroline Cassidy

The dreaded flu season is upon us again and Brits everywhere will be doing their utmost to avoid coming down with the lurgy. The causes and treatments of flu have long been surrounded by myth making it difficult to know how best to avoid and cope with the virus - we sort the fact from the fiction with a look at some of the most common flu myths.

Woman with flu looking at a cup
Woman with flu looking at a cup

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1. The flu jab gives you the flu
Not true - the flu vaccine is designed using inactivate flu viruses that are unable to transmit infection. Though you may feel slightly achy for a couple of days afterwards and the injection itself might make your arm sore, more serious reactions are extremely rare.

It does, however, take a few days to fully protect you against the flu so it is still possible to fall ill a week or two after the jab.

2. It's just like a bad cold
Again, not so. Anyone who has had the flu will know that the fever, chills, headaches and aching muscles are a far a good deal more uncomfortable than the stuffy nose, cough and sore throat associated with your average cold (though you may display those symptoms too). It's also likely to come on much more suddenly than a cold.

In severe cases, particularly amongst vulnerable groups such as the elderly or those with a long-term medical condition, complications can arise, including chest infections and pneumonia.

3. You can't catch flu twice
Don't be lulled into a false sense of security if you've already had a bout of the flu - unfortunately, there are a number of different strains of the virus so you will only be immune to the particular bug you caught.

That means it is always worth getting vaccinated, even if you've endured the flu already or have missed the early jabs in October.

4. Feed a cold, starve a fever
You might feel less like eating after coming down with the flu but there is no reason to cut back on calories. In fact, a healthy diet may well help you to get better, quicker and the most important thing, whether you're suffering from a cold or the flu, is to drink plenty of fluids.

5. Antibiotics 'cure' the flu
No they don't. Antibiotics only work against bacteria and the flu is a virus. Antiviral medications can be prescribed but they will have little effect unless you take them within 48 hours of developing symptoms.

Unfortunately, there's still no cure. The best treatment is to stay in bed, keep warm and drink plenty of water to avoid dehydration. To lower a high temperature and relieve aches, you can take paracetamol or ibuprofen.

6. When to see a doctor
If you're generally in good health, you don't need to see your GP. However, if you have flu and you are 65 or over, pregnant, have a long-term medical condition (eg diabetes, heart disease, lung disease, kidney or neurological disease), or an already weakened immune system, make an appointment to see your doctor, as the virus can be more serious for you.

For more information on coping with flu and how to avoid spreading the virus, visit NHS Choices.