10 myths about flu and the flu vaccine

Find out the common myths about flu and the flu vaccine, and the truth behind them.

There are many myths surrounding flu and the flu vaccine. Here are 10 common flu myths and the truth behind them.

The flu vaccine is available on the NHS for adults and children who are considered "at risk".

This page covers:

Flu is just like having a heavy cold

The flu vaccine gives you flu

Flu can be treated with antibiotics

Once you've had the flu vaccine, you're protected for life

I'm pregnant, so I shouldn't have the flu jab because it will affect my baby

The flu jab won't protect me against swine flu

Children can't have the flu vaccine

I've had the flu already this autumn, so I don't need the vaccination this year

If I missed having the flu jab in October, it's too late to have it later in the year

Vitamin C can prevent flu 

Flu is just like having a heavy cold

A bad bout of flu is much worse than a heavy cold. Flu symptoms come on suddenly and sometimes severely. They include fever, chills, headaches and aching muscles, as well as a cough and sore throat. 

You're likely to spend two or three days in bed. If you get complications caused by flu, you could become seriously ill and have to go to hospital.

The flu vaccine gives you flu

No, it doesn't. The injected flu vaccine given to adults contains inactivated flu viruses, so it can't give you flu.

Your arm may feel a bit sore where you were injected, and some people get a slight temperature and aching muscles for a couple of days afterwards. Other reactions are very rare.

Read more about how the injected flu vaccine works.

The children's nasal spray flu vaccine contains live but weakened flu viruses that will not give your child flu.

Read more about the children's flu vaccine.

Flu can be treated with antibiotics

No, it can't. Flu is caused by viruses – antibiotics only work against bacteria. You may be prescribed antiviral medicines to treat your flu.

Antivirals do not cure flu, but they can make you less infectious to others and reduce the length of time you may be ill.

To be effective, antivirals have to be given within a day or two of your symptoms appearing. A bacterial infection may occur as a result of having the flu, in which case you may be given antibiotics.

Find out more about why antibiotics shouldn't be overused.

Once you've had the flu vaccine, you're protected for life

No, you aren't. The viruses that cause flu can change every year, so you need a vaccination that matches the new viruses each year. The vaccine usually provides protection for the duration of that year's flu season.

Read more about what's in this winter's flu vaccine.

I'm pregnant, so I shouldn't have the flu jab because it will affect my baby

You should have the vaccine no matter what stage of pregnancy you're in. If you're pregnant, you could get very ill if you get flu, which could also be bad for your baby.

Having the jab can also protect your baby against flu after they're born and during the early months of life.

Read more about the flu jab in pregnancy.

The flu jab won't protect me against swine flu

Yes, it will. This year's flu vaccine protects against three different flu viruses, including the H1N1 swine flu virus. This is because the virus is expected to be circulating this year.

Children can't have the flu vaccine

Yes, they can!

The nasal spray flu vaccine is recommended on the NHS for all healthy two- and three-year-olds – plus children in reception class, and school years one, two, three and four.

In addition, children "at risk" of serious illness if they catch flu are eligible for a flu vaccine on the NHS. This includes children with a pre-existing illness, such as a respiratory or neurological condition, and children who are having treatment that weakens their immune system, such as chemotherapy.

The flu vaccine is generally given as an injection to children aged six months to two years and as a nasal spray to children aged 2 to 17 years who have a long-term health condition.

The flu vaccine isn't suitable for babies under the age of six months.

Read more about which children can have the flu vaccine.

I've had the flu already this autumn, so I don't need the vaccination this year

You do need it if you're in one of the "at risk" groups.

As flu is caused by several viruses, the immunity you naturally developed will only protect you against one of them – you could go on to catch another strain, so it's recommended you have the jab even if you've recently had flu. Also, what you thought was flu could have been something else.

If I missed having the flu jab in October, it's too late to have it later in the year

No, it's not too late. It's better to have the flu vaccine as soon as it becomes available, usually in October, but it's always worth getting vaccinated after this, even if there have already been outbreaks of flu.

Vitamin C can prevent flu

No, it can't. Many people think that taking daily vitamin C supplements will stop them getting flu, but there's no evidence to prove this.

Read the answers to some common questions about flu and the flu vaccine.

Find out which adults should have the flu vaccine and which children can have the flu vaccine.

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